At the turn of the millennium, hundreds of billions of these objects were consumed every single year around the world, yet in 2026 they went from a daily snack to a dangerous, expensive luxury.
And now I'm going to eat one.
The unusual thing about this fruit is that it comes with its own wrapper — biodegradable, of course. I'm told there's a certain trick to twisting off the stem, but — oh, that didn't work so well. In any case, once you've unpeeled it, the soft fruit inside exudes such a tempting smell that you forget about all the hassle and take a bite.
Mushy, textured, soft, and completely unique. It's a banana, and this strain is one of the few still in existence today.
From the early 20th century onwards, the Cavendish banana was the variety of choice for countries exporting mass quantities to consumers worldwide. The banana was sturdy, easily transportable, and offered a decent yield to farmers. By the beginning of the 21st century the Cavendish was practically the only variety of banana being grown for export; the risks of monocultures were well-known by that point, but the short-sighted nature of hypercapitalists meant those risks were ignored.
In 2019, Tropical Race Four, a soil-borne fungus named Fusarium oxysporum, threatened that business, decimating plantations across Taiwan, China, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Australia. The only thing that prevented the fungus from spreading to the real heartland of the banana business, Latin America, was the robust quarantine regulation set up in the teens, handily boosted by fears of international terrorism. Following the scare, stockpiles of methyl bromide chemical steriliser were ordered in case TR4 ever did gain a foothold.
But nature abhors a monoculture. In 2023, only four years later, an unusual sickness was spotted in five different banana plantations in Colombia. Worried researchers identified it as Tropical Race Six, a fungus that had only been characterised earlier that year in China. Somehow it had slipped past the quarantine and evaded 11 separate Colombian fungal detection spot checks; ten of the checks failed because the inspectors' detectors were fixed on TR4, and the 11th didn't occur due to the inspector being distracted by a football match. By the end of the year, TR6 had spread across tens of thousands of acres, and by 2025 it had infected millions of acres.
The sheer scale of the problem made co-ordinating an effective response impossible, especially with regions across South America already struggling from the damage caused by three supercyclones in the space of five years. There was nothing to stop the banana blight from wiping out the entire industry in the space of three years, and nothing to stop the severe unemployment and social unrest that resulted, contributing to the wave of popular revolutions in Colombia and Honduras.
Earlier efforts to create a new banana variety resistant to TR4, "New Cavendish", had come to nothing; the Fundacion Honderena de Investigacion Agricola (FHIA) had managed to breed a resistant hybrid, but not one that the notoriously choosy North Americans enjoyed eating. At the same time, promising genetically modified strains designed by the Queensland University of Technology were mired in patent litigation and suffered from anti-GM opposition from the EU.
In 2025 and beyond, research into an NNC variety ("New New Cavendish") resistant to both TR4 and TR6 proceeded much faster, fuelled by hundreds of millions in agribusiness investments. But 'fast' is a relative term, and the process took more than five years before arriving at a banana that ticked every safety and taste box. By that time, North American and European tastes had moved on, and heightened global warming was making the economics of banana plantations in Latin America look distinctly dicey. When the few NNC plantations that had been established in 2030 were threatened by a new Banana Restricted Ripening Virus in 2034, the major agribusiness investors chose to write off their losses and abandon the banana business entirely.
Life went on for domestic consumers in Asia and Africa who didn't have to worry about transporting their bananas long distances or storing them for weeks. They had never adopted the Cavendish monoculture, instead growing enough varieties that the occasional virus or fungus couldn't harm them too much.
Eventually in 2040, the banana industry re-emerged, thanks to the genetically modified NNNC variety and the use of sterile growing techniques borrowed from cloned-meat pioneers such as Tiersen. Yes, bananas returned to the market — at 50 times their former price.
The banana I have here right now is the Cavendish — not the New Cavendish, or the New New, or the New New New. No, it's very much the Old Cavendish, exactly the same variety that millions ate back in 2013, except grown in a sterile environment and guaranteed free of TR4, TR6, and any other fungi or viruses. I'm not going to tell you how much this cost, but I can say that I finally understand why people ate billions of them a century ago.