Grown in 100 different countries with 114 million annual metric tons of bananas produced every year, it’s no surprise they are the world’s most exported and consumed fruit. But as a National Geographic study shows, the banana has a complicated journey to the supermarket – and a worrisome future.
As the biggest herbaceous flowering plant in existence, it takes bananas nine months to grow a whole bunch. Workers retrieve the fruit in large bunches – sometimes containing as many as 170 pieces – using machetes, before inspecting, cleaning and packaging them for export.
Bananas are shipped overseas in refrigerated containers to avoid ripening. They are sent to Wilmington, Delaware, which is the largest banana port in the United States, then moved taken through a ripening process. This entails close examination by scientists who use a natural ripening chemical called ethylene gas to achieve the preferred results. Once ripened, the bananas are transported to business for distribution.
Worryingly, the most common variation of supermarket bananas has an uncertain future. The seedless Cavendish banana makes up 95% of commercially sold bananas, yet numbers are dropping due to a new fungus, TR4.
Scientists are concerned the banana may disappear completely, which happened previously with a different variation. To prevent this from happening, scientists are working to create a more disease-resistant banana.
- Rwanda consumes the most bananas per capita, at 279kg a year
- 1.4 million edible bananas are thrown away every day in Great Britain
- In a number of countries, bananas are the most wasted fruit
- Ecuador is the world’s largest exporter of bananas, exporting 1/4 of the entire supply
- The United States is the world’s largest importer of bananas, importing 1/4 of the entire supply