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Old 02-27-2006, 10:28 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Default How Canada built the world a better banana

Below is an interesting article that was posted in the Toronto Star Daily Newspaper on February 12. It's a real eye opener to see how fragile the banana crop really is. Quick quiz before you read this. What was the main banana variety sold in North America prior to the Cavendish? The answer is in the article below.

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How Canada built the world a better banana
Our hardier variety is a boon to third world producers, and to consumers
Feb. 12, 2006. 01:00 AM
LESLIE SCRIVENER
TORONTO STAR
Given all the contributions Canada has made to the world, who would guess one of the biggest would be to help build a better banana.
But it's true. Thanks to Canadian-funded research, banana breeders have been able to create hybrids that can withstand Caribbean windstorms and, most importantly, be grown without using fungicides or pesticides.
"It's been a saviour for small banana farmers who don't have the money to buy fungicides," says Franklin Rosales on the phone from San Jose, Costa Rica, where he works for an international banana network.
Knowing that Canada is contributing to the survival of the fourth most important food staple in the world — after rice, wheat and corn — is enough to warm our wintry hearts.
But there's more. Several Canadian-developed varieties have proven so disease-resistant and hardy, they are now being raised in more than 50 countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia. That includes one known as Goldfinger, produced through research funded by the International Development Research Centre in Ottawa.
The Centre supported several projects at the Honduran Foundation for Agricultural Research, spending $2.5 million during the 1980s and late 1990s to create new banana varieties.
"They stayed with us the longest and gave us the strongest funding," says Rosales, who used to be a banana breeder himself and is now regional co-ordinator for Latin America for the grandly named International Network for the Improvement of Banana and Plantain.
Because farmers growing the new hybrids don't have to use pesticides, they can save about $500 a hectare per year, he says. Along with reducing banana workers' exposure to chemicals, the pesticide-free programs have almost double the yields of bananas grown with pesticides.
The demand for stronger varieties was spurred because the Cavendish banana, the long and shapely fruit we see in grocery stores, is threatened by diseases such as windborne Black Sigatoka fungus. It has happened before. For generations the Gros Michel was the most popular banana for export, but it was wiped out in the 1950s and succeeded by the Cavendish.
The banana is vulnerable because it is a clone and lacks the genetic diversity to resist disease, says Ron Harpelle, a history professor at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay. He is one of Canada's very few banana authorities and, with his wife, Kelly Saxberg, made an award-winning documentary on the politics, history and ethics of bananas called Banana Split.
Diseases spread quickly and bananas can't mutate rapidly enough to resist. In response, Harpelle says, banana companies use an ever-increasing amount of chemicals.
"The beautiful yellow banana we are used to will gradually disappear and we'll have to eat others that are not so perfect, or give up on bananas," he says.
Bananas are virtually a sterile fruit — they rarely have seeds — so it's difficult to find seeds from good plants and then cross them to create hybrids.
To tackle the problem, researchers built a press to squeeze out the flesh and look for male and female seeds, says Ronnie Vernooy of the International Development Research Centre. They'd have to poke through some 20,000 bananas to find five or 10 usable seeds, and then it takes about two years of development to find out if the new plant is both disease-resistant and tasty.
Neither the Goldfinger nor another new Canadian-developed breed, the Mona Lisa, which was created around the same time, is available in Canada. Researchers brought in samples in the 1990s and asked shoppers in large Toronto supermarkets to try them. People liked the taste — it was slightly less sweet — and they stayed yellow longer, but there wasn't enough of either to supply large shipments to North American markets.
For now, the new bananas are only available in B.C., though Oxfam's fair-trade group is gauging interest in bringing them to Ontario and Quebec next year. Some of those bananas have earned the label "fair trade," because their producers are paid a fair price for them.
The price of regular bananas, however, alarms Harpelle.
"Why in a place like Thunder Bay can I buy bananas for 29 cents (per pound)?" he says. "They are dirt cheap, and it tells me somebody isn't well paid to produce them."
Most of Canada's bananas — total banana imports in 2004 were $235 million — come from Colombia, though in other years Costa Rica and Ecuador have been the primary source.
They're shipped by boat to New York, loaded on trucks to Winnipeg, unloaded to a ripening room and, when they are slightly green, trucked to grocery stores in Thunder Bay.
"We are some of the biggest banana consumers in the developed work and among the furthest away from the plantations," says Harpelle.
"We only pay 29 cents. We could afford to pay a little more if we could be assured the money went back to the people who toil in the fields."
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Old 02-27-2006, 11:58 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Default Re: How Canada built the world a better banana

Without reading the article the answer is the 'Gros Micheal', also known as 'Bluefields', 'Highgate' and I beleive 'Big Tom', or 'Big Jim' or something liek that
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Old 02-27-2006, 12:01 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Default Re: How Canada built the world a better banana

I remember now, it was 'Big Mike'!
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Old 02-27-2006, 12:44 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Default Re: How Canada built the world a better banana

I am very impressed.
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Old 02-27-2006, 12:57 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Default Re: How Canada built the world a better banana

I've been saying this for several decades that the Western Market's customers are ignorant of the many other banana cultivars and are missing out. We frown upon the current bananas and even the past ones sold in the US markets, and they don't rank high in our taste.

Why should bananas be only of one size, one shape and one taste when marketing it? Are the growers to be blamed, the customers, or the marketers?

If there were diversified bananas sold, like at least as diversified as apples, plums, peaches and nectarines, we should have minimum problems to start with.

It will only be a matter of short time that Goldfinger will succumb to evolved forms of the same diseases that the previous ones have suffered.

That is why I have very high regards for people planting various kinds of bananas in their yard whenever possible. This group rocks!

Now if only the Canadian research funding will devote more funds for developing more of the cold hardier strains of bananas. So far, the cold hardiness were more accidental findings rather than intentional. The priority is and always has been developing one and only one type that can be marketed to the "assumed to be really banana ignorant" consuming western public.
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Old 02-27-2006, 10:58 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Default Re: How Canada built the world a better banana

There needs to be more home growers, growing their own. Too bad most of the US is too cold.
There was a Musa balbisiana strain grown in Germany that ranked in between basjoo, and sikkimensis in hardiness. A hardy M.balbisiana would be great for making a cold hardy hybrid. Balbisiana has been used for the male pollinator in the past when trying to create disease resistant plants in India, so I don't see why one couldn't be used for hardiness.
How about CA gold as a mother, and hardy balbisiana as pollen donor(maybe mix a small early blooming dwarf in there too).
Just dreaming out loud!
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Old 07-05-2006, 07:49 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Default Re: How Canada built the world a better banana

Hi,

I don't understand why Musa basjoo is not used to cross it with fruit bananas to get hardy fruit bananas for cold climate, e. g. for Germany and colder areas of the USA.

But one friend, one researcher and genetic engineer in Vienna/Austria has bred triploid and polyploid Musa basjoo in his laboratory. It will be a hardy cook banana with seedless fruits. He has success to regenerate plants from tissue culture.

It's very difficulty to cross triploid and tetraploid bananas on the sexual way. I read here 10 seeds per 20,000 fruits! But it's possible to make crosses in the laboratory by DNA fusions.

Best wishes
Joachim
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Old 02-13-2007, 09:53 AM   #8 (permalink)
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Default Re: How Canada built the world a better banana

Furthering my mission to get more info into the Goldfinger wiki page!
http://www.bananas.org/wiki/Musa_'Goldfinger'
It would be great if anyone wants to volunteer and get some of this info into the wiki!!

And it's a great read regardless, this thread is worth a bump!
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