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Yes! We have no bananas!! – A century old song comes home to roost

During World War 2 the UK government introduced rationing, part of which was the banning of the importation of bananas for five years. Shop owners put up signs stating “Yes, we have no bananas” in their shop windows in keeping with the war spirit. But the song goes back further than that to Frank Silver and Irving Cohn who penned it back in 1923, as an ironic tribute to a Long Island fruit stall vendor, who apparently said “Yess!!” to every request, regardless of whether he could oblige or not.

Fast forward a century and the chances of the shop signs re-emerging have taken another step closer. A fungus that has wreaked havoc on banana plantations in the Eastern Hemisphere has, despite years of preventative efforts, arrived in the Americas. ICA, the Colombian agriculture and livestock authority, confirmed recently that laboratory tests have positively identified the presence of so-called Panama Disease Tropical Race 4 on banana farms in the Caribbean coastal region. The announcement was accompanied by a declaration of a national state of emergency.

The discovery of the fungus represents a potential impending disaster for bananas as both a food source and an export commodity. TR4 (often known as Banana Wilt) is an infection of the banana plant by a fungus of the genus Fusarium. Although bananas produced in infected soil are not unsafe for humans, infected plants eventually stop bearing fruit. The current strain affects the most popular production strain worldwide, known as the Cavendish.

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