Climate change could lead to bananas becoming a critical food source for millions of people, a new report says.
Researchers from the CGIAR agricultural partnership say the fruit might replace potatoes in some developing countries.
Cassava and the little known cowpea plant could play increasingly important roles in agriculture as temperatures rise.
People will have to adapt to new and varied menus as traditional crops struggle say the authors.
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Responding to a request from the United Nations’ committee on world food security, a group of experts in the field looked at the projected effects of climate change on 22 of the world’s most important agricultural commodities.
They predict that the world’s three biggest crops in terms of calories provided – maize, rice and wheat – will decrease in many developing countries.
They suggest that the potato, which grows best in cooler climates, could also suffer as temperatures increase and weather becomes more volatile.
The authors argue that these changes “could provide an opening for cultivating certain varieties of bananas” at higher altitudes, even in those places that currently grow potatoes.
MUKONO, Uganda — Lynet Nalugo dug a cassava tuber out of her field and sliced it open.
Inside its tan skin, the white flesh was riddled with necrotic brown lumps, as obviously diseased as any tuberculosis lung or cancerous breast.
“Even the pigs refuse this,” she said.
The plant was what she called a “2961,” meaning it was Variant No. 2961, the only local strain bred to resist cassava mosaic virus, a disease that caused a major African famine in the 1920s.
But this was not mosaic disease, which only stunts the plants. Her field had been attacked by a new and more damaging virus named brown streak, for the marks it leaves on stems.
That newcomer, brown streak, is now ravaging cassava crops in a great swath around Lake Victoria, threatening millions of East Africans who grow the tuber as their staple food.
Although it has been seen on coastal farms for 70 years, a mutant version emerged in Africa’s interior in 2004, “and there has been explosive, pandemic-style spread since then,” said Claude M. Fauquet, director of cassava research at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis. “The speed is just unprecedented, and the farmers are really desperate.”