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Kiss Your Bananas Buh-Bye

The Exchange
FILE - Chiquita bananas are on display at a grocery store in Bainbridge, Ohio in this Aug. 3, 2005 file photo. Faced with potentially billions of dollars in legal liability, Chiquita Brands International is asking a federal appeals court to block lawsuits filed against it in the U.S. by thousands of Colombians whose relatives were killed in that country's bloody, decades-long civil war. The produce giant, which long had huge banana plantations in Colombia, has admitted paying a right-wing Colombian paramilitary group $1.7 million over a seven-year period. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta, File)

That bunch of bananas on your kitchen counter -- the ones that are a staple of your baby's diet and the linchpin of your breakfast -- could be wiped out within the next couple years.

According to science journal Nature, the Cavendish banana variety, which accounts for nearly all of the world's global export trade, is under serious attack from a fungus that is making its way around the globe. The fungus recently turned up at banana plantations in Mozambique and Jordan, triggering fears that its next stop will be Latin America, the world's largest banana exporter. According to Nature, the fungus had been thought to be confined to Asia until it turned up in Mozambique in October.

"For those who buy their bananas in supermarkets, the Cavendish may well be the only variety they know," said Nature.

Bananas are grown in more than 130 countries, but the U.S. is a marginal producer, accounting for just 0.01% of global production in 2009, according to the University of Florida. As a result, the U.S. depends on exports from Latin American and the Caribbean. Between 2003 and 2012, Latin American and Caribbean exports averaged 11.7 million tons and accounted for 81% of the global export market. Hence the fears of a banana-killing fungus finding its way to the region.

Prices have also increased significantly over the last ten years. Import prices for bananas in 2013 have reached $900 per ton, compared to $375 in 2003.

Fortunately, the Cavendish banana represents only about 13% of the 150 million tons of bananas produced worldwide every year. And some see the demise of the Cavendish as a positive for the taste buds. James Dale, director of the Centre for Tropical crops and Biocommodities at Queensland Unversity of Technology in Australia, told Nature that the Cavendish is bland and bruises too easily. He favors the Gros Michel variety. "It's such a superior banana to Cavendish. To bring it back would be wonderful.

Dole Food (DOLE) is one of the world's largest producers of bananas. For the quarter ended June 15, Dole said operating income in fresh fruit was dinged by higher costs in Latin America, combined with lower prices in North America.