Sunday, November 30, 2008

Koeppel Interview Part 1

Back in early October, I had the opportunity to interview Dan Koeppel, author of Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed Our World. Over the next few days, I'll be posting the interview in digestible chunks, but if you want to read the piece in its entirety, it is available in both the print, and online versions of the current Wheatsville Breeze.

It’s apparent that you traveled a fair amount to do research for Banana, what areas or populations do you feel are being hit the hardest by banana maladies that Americans may not be aware of?

In terms of being hit hard, I would say that the definition of hit hard is two-fold. The first one would have to do with people who depend on bananas to eat, and pretty much all over the world, wherever bananas are grown, except for our hemisphere, people depend on bananas to eat. Wherever they do, banana maladies are prevalent. We don’t really know about people in Africa, for example, who get ninety percent of their daily calories from bananas.

Wherever bananas are grown, they get very sick, so, you’ll find, for example, in parts of the Congo, Cameroon, Uganda, Tanzania, banana sickness can devastate crop yields by up to eighty or ninety percent. These are people who are dealing with sick bananas, and they’re literally finding that eight or nine out of ten of the bananas that they grow are not coming off the tree. This can lead to starvation. So that’s something we have no idea about, and these banana sicknesses are very virulent, they’re invincible.

Now, on our side of the world, where most of the bananas grown are for commercial use, in other words, they’re the bananas that are grown for us to eat, we don’t have a lot of problems with sick bananas because we spray them against getting sick. The problem is that these sprays in conventionally grown bananas make the workers sick. So the problem with banana maladies is that we cure the bananas and we sicken the banana workers. The sickness of the banana workers has been a problem for sixty years. What you’ll see is that the kinds of sicknesses and kind of sprays have been changed, and that the word from the sprayers is, “well, things have gotten better, we’re using safer chemical now,” and perhaps these chemicals have gotten a little safer, but I would, uh, dispute that they’re safe. And, in fact, even if the chemicals are a little safer, the effects, which can range from cancers, to sterilization, are by no means safe. The other issue is that bananas need to be sprayed more and more as the years go on, because these maladies become more and more resistant.

So, even if thought the most horrible chemicals of all time were probably used farther back in the past, what’s happening now is pretty bad, so the effects of banana maladies is world wide, it’s just who and how they affect that varies across continents.

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