Culture

Latin America Is Fighting A Banana Fungus That Threatens America’s Favorite Fruit

Did you wake up and eat a banana for breakfast this morning? Straight out of the peel? Or maybe you chopped it up into a few pieces and tossed it into a smoothie or over a bowl of cereal?  

Or maybe your abuelita fried a few up and served them with some crema and a side of rice and frijoles? 

Bananas are a staple food item around the world. In fact, we consume around 114 millions tons of them every single year. So you can imagine why many people are freaking out over recent news that a banana killing fungus has taken hold. It could literally spell the end for our beloved banana. 

A deadly fungus has infested banana crops across Colombia.

Bad news for banana lovers: A fungus that’s particularly adept at killing the fruit has finally reached Latin America — a major supplier of the world’s bananas — as scientists long feared it would.

Recently, officials in Colombia declared a national emergency after confirming the presence of this deadly fungus, known as Fusarium oxysporum Tropical Race 4 (TR4), in the country, according to the Colombian Agricultural Institute (ICA)

This is the first time the fungus has been detected in Latin America. However, the fungus isn’t new — for decades, it has been devastating banana plantations in Asia, Australia and East Africa.

This is potentially devastating news because Latin America was one of the few remaining fungus-free regions in the world.

Although this fungus isn’t harmful to humans, it is a “serious threat” to banana production, according to the United Nations. The fungus attacks the plant’s roots and blocks its vascular system — the network used to transport water and nutrients — and ultimately kills the plant. Once the fungus finds its way into soil, it can’t be treated with fungicides, and it’s very difficult to remove.

So what does this mean for the fruit so many of us have come to enjoy?

Well, the fungus attacks the most commonly exported banana, the Cavendish banana. “For Western countries, the vast majority of the bananas we eat are from the same Cavendish subgroup,” Nicolas Roux, a senior scientist at Bioversity International in France, told Live Science in a June interview.

“What we’re having is an almost apocalyptic scenario where we’ll probably lose Cavendish [banana]” Sarah Gurr, Exeter University’s chair in food security, told Wired in an interview.

Also, side note, the Cavendish bananas which are what most of us buy in the supermarket, are literal clones of one another.

Cavendish bananas reproduce asexually, meaning that the plants are essentially clones of their parents. This means banana crops lack genetic diversity, and infections can spread quickly. That’s not weird at all. 

Virtually every supermarket banana in the world is a Cavendish, a strain chosen for its hardiness and easy cultivation. In the 1950s, it replaced the Gros Michel, a comparable banana that was all but wiped out by the soil-dwelling fungus Panama disease. Also known as Fusarium fungus, the blight blackens bananas from the inside out. Once it’s infected a plantation, its fruit is toast. Even decades after bananas have gone, the spores hang around in the soil, with the potential to re-infect crops all over again.

Colombia is just the most recent outbreak. This fungus has been wreaking havoc globally for years.

For the past 30 years, the fungus has wreaked havoc on banana plantations in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. Now, Colombia’s agriculture and fishing institute has declared a national emergency after the fungus was found in the northeastern province of La Guajira in June. Nearly 170 hectares (420 acres) of plantations have since been quarantined

So what’s the plan? How will we save the banana? 

A number of ideas have been proposed to help save the Cavendish banana, including genetically engineering plants that are resistant to TR4. Meanwhile, researchers are trying desperately to find a new kind of banana that can survive Tropical Race 4.

Scientists in Australia have created a fungus-resistant variety using genetic engineering. It’s still being tested and would require government approval before it could be grown or sold. 

Other scientists are looking through nature’s storehouse. Unfortunately, 80% of banana fruits are susceptible to TR4. And none of the fungus-resistant plants are ready to replace the bananas that currently fill supermarket shelves. Most of them are cooking bananas, or plantains. Others are wild bananas with tiny fruit that’s inedible; the pods are full of seeds.

The hope, however, is that plant breeders can take these plants and cross-pollinate them, mating them with other, more commercially viable bananas, reshuffling the genes to create new varieties that are both delicious and immune to TR4.

Five Tribal Leaders Have Been Assassinated Across Colombia And The Government Blames FARC Rebels

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Five Tribal Leaders Have Been Assassinated Across Colombia And The Government Blames FARC Rebels

Tom Laffay / Getty

President Iván Duque traveled to Colombia’s southwest in the wake of what he called the “assassination” of five indigenous leaders. According to the Associated Press, leaders of the Tacueyo reservation were killed this week when they were ambushed by gunmen that belong to a faction of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (also known as FARC). 

The leaders’ armored SUV was attacked by a small group of defectors with hand grenades and guns who do not support the now-defunct FARC’s peace treaty with the government. The gunmen continued to shoot even as ambulances arrived to help the wounded. Duque condemned the act of violence that injured six and killed five, including Cristina Bautista, the spiritual leader of the semi-autonomous reservation and the top authority. 

The Nasa indigenous guard try to thwart the assassination.

The Nasa indigenous group resides in the Cauca province of southwest Colombia. When the Nasa indigenous guard attempted to stop a car for a routine check, a group of dissidents including a leader demanded to pass through. After a standoff, the guard alarmed other locals to gather. The rebels opened fire and used hand grenades to attack the indigenous leaders. 

The Nasa are semi-autonomous and administer, patrol, and govern their own region. The guard consists of volunteers and does not consider themselves a police force, according to BBC. They are unarmed mediators who carry wooden staffs. 

Indigenous leaders believe Duque’s visit is too little, too late.

Since Colombia’s 2016 peace accord, dozens of indigenous and social leaders have been assassinated. Militant dissidents have used violent methods to take control over former rebel territories and drug routes. 

In the Cauca state, one of the country’s most lucrative and fast-growing regions for cocaine production, 14 tribal members have been killed. 

“Our only weapon is our unity and spirituality,” Luis Acosta, national coordinator of the indigenous guards, told Associated Press. “[The dissidents] don’t allow us to control our territories because we reject the logic of war.”

Colombian indigenous communities have consistently decried the government’s complacency in what they say is a “genocide” where they have become collateral damage in ongoing conflicts between leftist rebels, state security forces, and right-wing paramilitaries. 

Colombia’s government launches a military offensive to detain the dissidents.

The government launched an initial investigation that suggested the act was in retaliation to the capture of three Farc defectors by indigenous locals. 

“Clearly, here we have a longstanding threat of drug trafficking groups, and of dissidents, who want to intimidate the population,” Duque told reporters, according to The Guardian.  “I hope to make some important announcements about operational capacity in the region and the capacity we will have to face these threats.” 

However, many felt Duque was just paying lip service. 

“The region where this massacre took place is a first-tier zone for violence, and the defense sector surely knows this but the response to repeated calls for help from indigenous communities has been far from adequate,” Adam Isacson, a security analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America, told reporters.

Opposition politicians accuse the government of genocide.

“What is underway in Colombia is an indigenous genocide, and it will not stop if international justice does not appear,” Senator Gustavo Petro tweeted. 

While the 2016 peace accord was meant to end a civil war that displaced 7 million Colombians and killed 260,000, violence has become the status quo for the Cauca province. A residual power vacuum leftover by Farc appears to have causedconflicts over territory, drug routes, land rights, and resources where indigenous people are often targets.

 Just last month, Karina García a mayoral candidate and three others on the campaign were murdered. Since 2016, according to Colombia’s human rights ombudsman, 486 activists and human rights defenders have been murdered. 

“The government says the right things, but doesn’t do anything,” said Eduin Marcelo Capaz, an indigenous human rights coordinator said. “Duque will say whatever he has to to cover up his government’s ineffectiveness and disinterest in protecting us.”

United Nations and the Organization of American States urge Colombia’s government to end violence against indigenous groups.  

Last April, the UN and OAS urged Duque to avoid violence in the Cauca province as tensions escalated between indigenous folk and dissidents. 

“Dialogue is fundamental to attend to social demands and is the only solution that contains violence, alongside a focus on human rights, the strengthening of democracies and the rule of law,” the office of the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights urged. 

Only time will tell if Colombia’s promise to protect its indigenous folk is real because so far it hasn’t been. 

“People are being left unprotected by their government in an area that is being disputed among several armed and criminal groups,” Isacson said. “Colombia must prioritize protecting these communities, working with their leaderships, to prevent another horrible tragedy.”

Bogota, Colombia Just Made History By Electing Their First Woman And Openly Gay Mayor Claudia Lopez Hernandez

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Bogota, Colombia Just Made History By Electing Their First Woman And Openly Gay Mayor Claudia Lopez Hernandez

On Sunday, voters in Bogota, Colombia made history by electing not only their first female mayor in the history of the city but the first openly gay mayor as well. Claudia Lopez Hernandez won 35.2% of the vote (which equals around 1.1 million votes), beating out her competitor Carlos Fernando Galán who followed her with 32.5% of the vote. Lopez’s win is making international headlines because of the significance of the position–in Colombia, the mayor of Bogota is considered the second most powerful political position in the country–second only to the president.

Lopez celebrated her victory by kissing her partner Angélica Lozano–also a Green Alliance politician. Surrounded by her supporters, Lopez addressed the crowd: “This is the day of the woman. We knew that only by uniting could we win. We did that. We united, we won and we made history!”.

Lopez is no stranger to the political world–not only did she earn her Ph.D. in Political Science from Northwestern University in the U.S., but she has worked for years to fight corruption in Colombia’s government.

On the campaign trail, Lopez marketed herself as an “incorruptible” candidate, making her attractive to Bogotans who were tired of their city’s rampant corruption throughout the political sector. And it’s not only Lopez’s academic record that’s impressive. Lopez began her career as a student activist in the ’90s, lending her voice to a movement that spurred on Colombia’s adoption of a nationwide constitution. From there, she became a journalist, then a consultant to the United Nations, and finally, a researcher investigating corruption within Colombia’s congress. In 2014, she was elected to Colombia’s senate as a member of the Green Alliance Party. 

Lopez, who is a member of the Green Alliance Party, is considered to be “center-left” on Bogota’s political spectrum. During her candidacy, she supported advancing minority rights and proposed creating more educational opportunities for people over 45 and ramping up law enforcement in the capital, according to the BBC.

Lopez’s win is monumental not only for women and the LGBT community, but for those who a tired of seeing their city dominated by corrupt politicians.

In Colombia, political corruption has long been a scourge on the government. The country has an unfortunate history of those within power embezzling public funds, bribing officials, and attempting to rig elections. Voters have been vocal about their outrage over what they believe is a deeply broken political machine. In recent years, the civil unrest over corruption has reached new heights. In 2016, up to 16,000 Colombians took to Bogota’s streets to protest the widespread bribery of public officials. 

And while past political candidates have vowed to fight corruption through policy changes, the city has seen little outcome from these campaign-trail promises. Many are optimistic that Lopez’s unusual political pedigree will be the change Bogota needs to combat the city’s structural corruption. “For the first time in Colombian history a woman is mayor of the capital city Bogota,” said one Twitter user. “[She’s] the only politician I trust in this m***** country and yeah, she’s a lesbian”.

As for the people of Bogota, many are proud that their city elected someone who, years ago, would’ve been an unlikely winner. 

Many Colombians are taking to Twitter to express their joy over the election results. It’s not every day that history is made in such a monumental way. 

For many, Claudia Lopez Hernandez’s election is a sign of hope. 

 This is @ClaudiaLopez, the new mayor of #Bogota, kissing her partner @AngelicaLozanoC in celebration after today’s elections. This is a momentous symbol, a sign of change and of good things to come. That I have the privilege of calling them my friends only makes this sweeter.

Some people are saying that her election is renewing their faith in the democratic process:

It can be hard to remain positive about politics when we’re bombarded with bad news all day. Sometimes, all it takes is one positive event to keep us optimistic.  

Of course, some people believe that we should be celebrating Lopez’s stellar qualifications, not her gender or sexual orientation:

Although it’s true that Lopez won the election regardless of being a gay woman, for many, it’s exciting that she was able to accomplish such a feat without hiding who she is. 

And of course, many Colombians are feeling renewed patriotism for their country.

In the face of constant news about corruption, sexism, and homophobia, there’s nothing more refreshing than hearing a population came together, rejected prejudice, and voted their conscience.