Friday, September 05, 2008


I got this brilliant and very informative article about bananas... Since i live in a sort of a banana republic i found this interesting :)

"Johann Hari: Why bananas are a parable for our times

Thursday, 22 May 2008 Web

Below the headlines about rocketing food prices and rocking
governments, there lays a largely unnoticed fact: bananas are dying.
The foodstuff, more heavily consumed even than rice or potatoes, has
its own form of cancer. It is a fungus called Panama Disease, and it
turns bananas brick-red and inedible.

There is no cure. They all die as it spreads, and it spreads quickly.
Soon – in five, 10 or 30 years – the yellow creamy fruit as we know it
will not exist. The story of how the banana rose and fell can be seen
a strange parable about the corporations that increasingly dominate
the world – and where they are leading us.

Bananas seem at first like a lush product of nature, but this is a
sweet illusion. In their current form, bananas were quite consciously
created. Until 150 ago, a vast array of bananas grew in the world's
jungles and they were invariably consumed nearby. Some were sweet;
some were sour. They were green or purple or yellow.

A corporation called United Fruit took one particular type – the Gros
Michel – out of the jungle and decided to mass produce it on vast
plantations, shipping it on refrigerated boats across the globe. The
banana was standardised into one friendly model: yellow and creamy and
handy for your lunchbox.

There was an entrepreneurial spark of genius there – but United Fruit
developed a cruel business model to deliver it. As the writer Dan
Koeppel explains in his brilliant history Banana: The Fate of the
Fruit That Changed the World, it worked like this. Find a poor, weak
country. Make sure the government will serve your interests. If it
won't, topple it and replace it with one that will.

Burn down its rainforests and build banana plantations. Make the
locals dependent on you. Crush any flicker of trade unionism. Then,
alas, you may have to watch as the banana fields die from the strange
disease that stalks bananas across the globe. If this happens, dump
tonnes of chemicals on them to see if it makes a difference. If that
doesn't work, move on to the next country. Begin again.

This sounds like hyperbole until you study what actually happened. In
1911, the banana magnate Samuel Zemurray decided to seize the country
of Honduras as a private plantation. He gathered together some
international gangsters like Guy "Machine Gun" Maloney, drummed up a
private army, and invaded, installing an amigo as president.

The term "banana republic" was invented to describe the servile
dictatorships that were created to please the banana companies. In the
early 1950s, the Guatemalan people elected a science teacher named
Jacobo Arbenz, because he promised to redistribute some of the banana
companies' land among the millions of landless peasants.

President Eisenhower and the CIA (headed by a former United Fruit
employee) issued instructions that these "communists" should be
killed, and noted that good methods were "a hammer, axe, wrench, screw
driver, fire poker or kitchen knife". The tyranny they replaced it
with went on to kill more than 200,000 people.

But how does this relate to the disease now scything through the
world's bananas? The evidence suggests even when they peddle something
as innocuous as bananas, corporations are structured to do one thing
only: maximise their shareholders' profits. As part of a highly
regulated mixed economy, that's a good thing, because it helps to
generate wealth or churn out ideas. But if the corporations aren't
subject to tight regulations, they will do anything to maximise
short-term profit. This will lead them to seemingly unhinged behaviour
– like destroying the environment on which they depend.

Not long after Panama Disease first began to kill bananas in the early
20th century, United Fruit's scientists warned the corporation was
making two errors. They were building a gigantic monoculture. If every
banana is from one homogenous species, a disease entering the chain
anywhere on earth will soon spread. The solution? Diversify into a
broad range of banana types.

The company's quarantine standards were also dire. Even the people who
were supposed to prevent infection were trudging into healthy fields
with disease-carrying soil on their boots. But both of these solutions
cost money – and United Front didn't want to pay. They decided to
maximise their profit today, reckoning they would get out of the
banana business if it all went wrong.

So by the 1960s, the Gros Michel that United Fruit had packaged as The
One True Banana was dead. They scrambled to find a replacement that
was immune to the fungus, and eventually stumbled upon the Cavendish.
It was smaller and less creamy and bruised easily, but it would have
to do.

But like in a horror movie sequel, the killer came back. In the 1980s,
the Cavendish too became sick. Now it too is dying, its immunity a
myth. In many parts of Africa, the crop is down 60 percent. There is a
consensus among scientists that the fungus will eventually infect all
Cavendish bananas everywhere. There are bananas we could adopt as
Banana 3.0 – but they are so different to the bananas that we know now
that they feel like a totally different and far less appetising fruit.
The most likely contender is the Goldfinger, which is crunchier and
tangier: it is know as "the acid banana".

Thanks to bad corporate behaviour and physical limits, we seem to be
at a dead end. The only possible glimmer of hope is a genetically
modified banana that can resist Panama Disease. But that is a distant
prospect, and it is resisted by many people: would you like a banana
split made from a banana split with fish genes?

When we hit up against a natural limit like Panama disease, we are
bemused, and then affronted. It seems instinctively bizarre to me that
lush yellow bananas could vanish from the global food supply, because
I have grown up in a culture without any idea of physical limits to
what we can buy and eat.

Is there a parable for our times in this odd milkshake of banana,
blood and fungus? For a hundred years, a handful of corporations were
given a gorgeous fruit, set free from regulation, and allowed to do
what they wanted with it. What happened? They had one good
entrepreneurial idea – and to squeeze every tiny drop of profit from
it, they destroyed democracies, burned down rainforests, and ended up
killing the fruit itself.

But have we learned? Across the world, politicians like George Bush
and David Cameron are telling us the regulation of corporations is "a
menace" to be "rolled back"; they even say we should leave the
planet's climate in their hands. Now that's bananas."

To purchase 'Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World', click here

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