In the next 50 years, approximately 50 percent of conventional plantations in Central and South America are predicted to become unsuitable for the production and export of bananas.
This is a claim made by FIU biological sciences researchers Brian Machovina ’91, MS ’94 and Kenneth Feeley in their study titled, “Climate change driven shifts in the extent and location of areas suitable for export banana production.”
The researchers used global climate projections for the year 2060 and species distribution modeling (SDM) to predict the geographical shifts and map areas predicted to be suitable for commercial banana production. They found climate change, deforestation and lack of water availability will cause banana plantations currently found in areas suitable for production to shift to other countries. Countries such as Mexico, Ecuador and Peru will gain suitable cultivation areas while other countries will lose suitable areas, including Honduras and Colombia. In fact, it is estimated that Colombia will lose an estimated 62 percent of its cultivation areas.
Machovina holds a banana sprout soon headed for a plantation in Costa Rica.
“Climate change is real and it is impacting our food systems and what people eat around the world,” Machovina said. “Recently, drought in the U.S. affected corn crops to the point where we had to import corn from other countries to make up for the loss in yields. With climate change, we expect extreme weather events to occur more often around the world and, as years pass, we will have more and bigger problems as they relate to food.”
According to the study, a decrease in areas suitable for conventional banana production is expected. However, areas suitable for organic banana cultivation will increase due to the generally drier climate predicted for this region in the future thus creating opportunities for organic farming in the area. Conventional farming focuses on monoculture, or the mass production of one crop in one location, and uses synthetic pesticides and fertilizers to yield crops. Conversely, organic farming employs polyculture, or the production of multiple crops in one space, and natural fertilizers and pesticides, to produce crops.
To maintain the long-term global system of commercial banana production, the researchers recommend that agricultural management and policy decisions maximize water conservation and availability to offset changes in climate; shift location of commercial banana cultivation zones; and invest in research and development of climate-resilient bananas.
“I believe human beings are resilient and adaptive,” Machovina said. “We are undergoing a learning phase and will hit road bumps along the way that may be very stressful for society, but in the face of climate change we will have to learn to adapt our global food production systems to feed people.”
Bananas are the developing world’s fourth most valuable food crop and the world’s 12th most important plant crop in value and quantity. Production is concentrated in Africa, Asia, India, Latin America and the Caribbean, with Ecuador, Costa Rica, Colombia and the Philippines currently the world’s largest exporters. Bananas have long been the leading fresh fruit imported into the U.S.
Machovina is set to present his research at a meeting hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations to discuss the future of Ecuador’s banana production in the face of climate change.
The study, titled “Climate Change driven shifts in the extent and location of areas suitable for export banana production,” was published in the scientific journal Ecological Economics.