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.

There’s A Group In Colombia Throwing Virtual House Parties With Amazing DJ’s And Supporting Vulnerable Communities In The Process

Things That Matter

There’s A Group In Colombia Throwing Virtual House Parties With Amazing DJ’s And Supporting Vulnerable Communities In The Process

DonaEnCasa / Instagram

With the pandemic forcing millions of us into lockdown and self-isolation, we’ve had to get pretty creative when it comes to socializing. One consequence of the lockdown has been the total shutdown of bars and clubs.

But let’s be real: the desire to perrear hasn’t gone anywhere.

So that’s where digital dance parties come to the rescue. And one group is creating super fun virtual parties with serious DJs spinning everything from EDM to reggaetón, while also supporting at-risk communities.

Dona En Casa is throwing virtual dance parties and supporting local communities with every peso they raise.

The Coronavirus pandemic may have spurred the group into action, but Dona En Casa is working on solving issues that existed long before Covid-19 threatened communities around the world.

Poverty, homelessness, lack of medical care and education – these issues all existed long before the virus hit but imagine how much worse they have become for impoverished communities in Latin America… Things have only gotten worse.

So, Dona En Casa decided to step up and try and do something about it while creating a platform for others to give back and have fun doing so – all from the safety and comfort of their own home. The group is also creating a fun space for people to escape the daily reminder of self-isolation and quarantine with lineups featuring amazing DJs.

Dona En Casa has helped frontline medical workers and has plans to help even more organizations – with your support.

Credit: donaencasa / Instagram

The group started off raising money for families in need of food assistance – and so far, the Dona En Casa and its partygoers have helped feed 100 families. But the group has also helped raise money to buy face masks and PPE for healthcare workers stationed in remote parts of Colombia that don’t have easy access to necessary equipment.

In an interview with Felipe Galvis, a founder of Done En Casa, he said the group is also looking to expand its giving programs by partnering with other organizations – including a dog shelter and a sanctuary for monkeys trafficked in the wildlife trade.

OK – but a digital dance party? What does that even look like…?

Credit: donaencasa / Instagram

Trust me, I had this question, too. But it actually sounds amazing! I mean basically you get to party from the comfort of your home, get dressed up or stay as dressed down as you want, make your own favorite beverage, and hang out with tons of other like-minded people.

The party takes place on Zoom and typically goes for two hours – but Galvis noted that their first party stretched on for four hours because people were having such a good time.

And this isn’t like something you’ll just stream while doing something on the side: Galvis said that at least 70% of people are really active and engaged – there’s tons of chatting, dance challenges, games, and even private chatting going. Can we expect a Done En Casa wedding some day?

Galvis pointed out that the last thing he expected to do in a quarantine was meet new people, but thanks to these parties that’s exactly what’s happened. Together, they’re building a community and in the process supporting vulnerable groups and helping out the entertainment industry and DJs along the way.

Mitú is joining Dona En Casa for two digital fiestas that will benefit TECHO – a major NGO across Latin America.

Credit: us.techo.org

This Friday and Saturday (May 22/23), Mitú is joining Dona En Casa for two crazy fiestas that will take place to benefit TECHO – a Latin American organization that provides support to communities in need.

TECHO is an organization that Dona En Casa co-founder Felipe Galvis holds close to his heart. As a former volunteer, he has seen the impact the organization makes. They provide food assistance, medical aide, supplemental education such as English classes, and they help small businesses with microcredits and coaching. The organization also constructs emergency housing for families who need them most.

You can join in on the parties with a donation that will 100% benefit the organization. The group is asking for a $9 USD donation – since with $9 USD they can feed a family for 10 days. And with your $9 donation you get access to both parties on Friday and Saturday.

Colombia has had a pretty strict response to the Coronavirus pandemic leaving many people with increased anxiety and loneliness.

Credit: donaencasa / Instagram

As soon as it became clear that Coronavirus was spreading across Latin America, Colombia sealed off its borders – including banning its own citizens from returning to Colombia. In fact, the country has been home to some of the strictest measures against the pandemic in Latin America. While this has had a positive effect at combating the outbreak, it’s also led to increased anxiety and loneliness among those who aren’t even allowed to leave their homes to visit family.

The Dona En Casa initiative is a win-win situation that helps people in need while also letting others dance and hang out in a socially distanced digital platform. If you’re interested in signing up for the event, check it out here.

Colombia Is Calling Your Name But How Much Do You Actually Know About This Incredible South American Country?

Culture

Colombia Is Calling Your Name But How Much Do You Actually Know About This Incredible South American Country?

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Colombia has been a rising travel destination for several years now as more and more people realize it has so much to offer. From bustling cities full of life to snow-capped mountains and unrivaled jungle rainforests, Colombia is truly a destination worth exploring.

And before the Coronavirus pandemic halted the breaks on the travel industry, Colombia was quickly becoming a major appeal for travelers from all over the world. Just 10 years ago, Colombia received around 900,000 foreign visitors – last year that number stood at nearly 3 million!

Now, as many of us dream about our next vacation (which is likely months if not more than a year away…), we want to revisit some of our favorite travel hotspots and test your knowledge on South America’s top destinations.

The country has a bad rap – but safety has improved so much.

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Unfortunately, it appears that not everyone knows that Colombia is well and truly back on the map, and that for the most part it is a safe destination for visitors to South America.

The drug cartels, still very much present, tend to keep their violence off the streets and a truce between FARC and the government has largely been held in place. Still, you may hear stories and sure there are parts of the country you probably shouldn’t visit, but Colombia has overwhelmingly improved its security. Anthony Bourdain summed it up pretty perfectly:

“If you want to find bad people in Colombia, you can surely find them, as you could in New York or Los Angeles. But nowhere have my crew and I been treated better or with more kindness and generosity. I’d bring my family on vacation there in a heartbeat. And hope to soon. As I said before: Colombians are proud. Let them show you what they are proud of.”

Colombians sure love their fiestas – the country is home to four of the world’s largest parties.

Credit: Bret Silverwood / Flickr

From the biggest salsa festival, theatre festival, outdoor horse parade to a flower parade, Colombia knows how to throw massive parties. Many of these events are scheduled well in advance so you can start looking for dates in 2021 and plan your trip accordingly!

Colombia is a major music-producing country – Maluma baby!

Credit: maluma / Instagram

Colombia has given us some pretty awesome people: hip-shaking Shakira, author Gabriel Garcia Marquez (who penned Love in the Time of Cholera) and actor John Leguizamo (of Moulin Rouge and Romeo & Juliet fame – Google him, you’ll know) all call the country home.

Not to mention Juanes, Maluma, J Balvin, Karol G and so many others.

Colombia is the only country in South America that has coastlines on the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.

Credit: Bret Silverwood / Flickr

Ok, so the Pacific side isn’t all that much of a tourist destination yet – it lacks the sandy beaches known to the Caribbean side. But still, you get the best of both worlds with two different coastlines to choose from.

There are about 80 different regional languages spoken across Colombia.

Credit: Bret Silverwood / Flickr

Spanish, like most of South America, is the official language of Colombia and you’ll get by in most of the country with it. But keep in mind if in smaller villages that it’s more than likely you’ll encounter Indigenous languages – many of which are in danger of extinction.

Aguardiente is the national drink.

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You’ll either love it or hate it but either way you’ll end up drinking tons of it. It’s cheap and mixes pretty well.

Capital Bogota has one of the biggest cycle path networks in the world.

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Bogota’s bike network is the largest network in the America’s and it actually carries more than 600,000 riders each and every day. That’s some serious ridership and is kind of surprising considering the city sits at an altitude of nearly 3,000 meters (or more than 8,000 feet).

Colombia is one of the most mega-diverse countries in the world.

Credit: National Geographic

Colombia is the second most biodiverse country in the world, after only Brazil which is 10 times its size, and one of only 17 “megadiverse” countries. It has the highest amount of species by area in the world, including more species of bird than all of Europe and North America combined.

Plastic surgery really is a thing.

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Having grown up in a society where butt implants were a thing the Kadarshians constantly denied, it was fascinating to see so many people openly displaying their ‘physical enhancements.’

According to some locals, the plastic surgery crazy may be thanks to the drug cartels – who allegedly like women to look a certain way. But one thing’s clear – plastic surgery is big business in Colombia with some tour companies actually changing their business model to do ‘surgery tourism’ from the U.S.!