Bananas Aren't Going to Do Well Under Climate Change, Scientists Warn

Some of the world's biggest producers of bananas could struggle to grow the crop thanks to climate change, scientists have warned.

In the coming decades, 10 countries where bananas are grown could be negatively impacted, including the world's first and fourth biggest producers, India and Brazil. Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama and the Philippines could also suffer.

Since the 1960s, shifts in the climate have in fact boosted the growth of bananas in some regions, but hindered it in others, according to the authors of the paper published in the journal Nature Climate Change. But if the current trend of global warming continues, farms may struggle to grow the same amount of bananas in coming years, researchers Varun Varma and Daniel Bebber of the University of Exeter predict.

Bananas are not only a staple in many people's diets, they also provide income to growers in tropical and subtropical regions around the world. According to a study cited by the authors, the fruit is among the top 10 crops in the world when it comes to cultivation, yield, and calories produced. Despite this, the impact climate change could have on these crops is little understood, Varma and Bebber wrote.

The researchers looked at data from 27 countries between 1961 to 2016, covering around 86 percent of worldwide banana production, to create a computer model to forecast climate change will impact the fruit. The countries assessed included some top exporters such as Ecuador, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ivory Coast and the Philippines, which cover a range of climate conditions. The pair also looked at existing research on banana physiology.

The figures showed Africa, China and India, Latin America and the Caribbean have benefited from a boost in banana yield since 1961, while Brazil, southeast Asia and Australia have been negatively affected.

Banana yield in some countries could increase as a result of future climate change, including all ten African countries in the study, as well as Ecuador, the world's biggest exporter of bananas, and Honduras.

But the authors emphasized their analysis is based on average climate conditions, does not account for a more extreme warming scenario, or the threat of emerging diseases.

Earlier this year, a separate study found climate change could help the spread of a fungus which affects bananas.

Bebber, a senior lecturer in biosciences at the University of Exeter, commented in a statement: "We're very concerned about the impact of diseases like Fusarium Wilt on bananas, but the impacts of climate change have been largely ignored. There will be winners and losers in coming years, and our study may stimulate vulnerable countries to prepare through investment in technologies like irrigation."

"It is imperative that we invest in preparing tropical agriculture for future climate change," he said.

Varun Varma, Research Fellow at the University of Exeter and an author of the study said: "An open exchange of ideas is going to be critical going forward. We believe practical solutions already exist, but these are scattered across banana producing countries. This knowledge exchange needs to start now to counteract predicted yield losses due to climate change."

Benjamin Richard, Vice-Chancellor's Research Fellow in the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences at the University of Hertfordshire was not involved in the study. He told Newsweek: "the authors did a careful research to gather as much data as they could on a poorly researched crop. However, they obtained only observed yields data and they could not include crop management and cultivars used, nor other environmental factors or pests and diseases. Panama disease is a growing concern for banana productivity, and it is expected that climate change will increase the expansion and frequency of epidemics."

Richard explained the study highlights "the facts that not all the regions will be impacted in the same way by climate change. Specific local adaptations will be needed to increase or at least maintain banana yields in the future.

"The model predicts a decrease in productivity when the mean annual temperature is greater than the optimal temperature so limiting the temperature increase during the 21st century will help to avoid it," he said.

Alastair Culham, Associate Professor of Botany at the University of Reading, who also didn't work on the project, told Newsweek: "This paper offers the first detailed overview of the potential impact of climate change on a tropical crop. These are strong findings that look at likely regional variations in crop yield in a way that will help guide farmers for future growing seasons."

"However, there are some limitations to the study. No analysis has been done on how different banana cultivars respond to a changing climate, and the changes in disease risk are not explored. In order to ensure that we have a sustainable source of bananas in the future, we need to develop new cultivars which could address both of these risks."

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Banana crops could be affected by climate change, experts have warned. Getty