Oxford University Master’s student Myles Karp spent October 21-25 at EARTH University learning about EARTH’s sustainable banana production. Last year, while studying in England, the Florida native happened upon an article that explained how the Gros Michel banana cultivar popular pre-1960 had been wiped out by Panama disease. The variety was replaced by the less flavorful, but disease-resistant cultivar known as Cavendish. Intrigued, the anthropology student applied for and won a Wallace Watson Award to do a five week expedition in the tropics to taste the famed Gros Michel banana.
As he began preparing for his trip, he learned that a new strain of Panama disease is now threatening Cavendish cultivars, causing alarm that it could decimate commercial banana production.
“It’s not just about not having commercially viable varieties to replace the Cavendish, it’s also concern for the environment because the more disease you have, the more deforestation and pesticide use,” he remarks. “This is an issue that encompasses economics, sociocultural dynamics, and food security…the introduction of a new disease might change the whole system.”
His ultimate goal of the expedition is to promote consumer acceptance of other varieties of bananas, which he signals as possibly the single most important factor in achieving more sustainable production systems and new banana breeds.
At the end of his visit Karp gave a lecture at EARTH about the past, present and future of bananas to a hall of students and faculty. He will be immersing himself in different models of banana production during his remaining stay in the country. Following his expedition, he will be returning to England to give a public lecture about the experience.