The first fruit on earth?
Some horticulturists believe that bananas were the first fruit on earth. Their origin is placed in Southeast Asia, in the jungles of Malaysis. Indonesia or the Philippines. Where many varieties of wild bananas still grow today. Africans are credited to have given the present name, since the word banana would be derived from the Arab for ‘finger’.
Bananas started to be traded internationally by the end of the fourteenth century. The development of railroads and technological advances in refrigerated maritime transport subsequently enable bananas to become the most traded fruit in the world.
Where bananas are grown
Bananas are grown in more than 150 countries, and 105 million tonnes of fruit are produced each year. Bananas which are grown for local consumption are generally grown in traditional, extensive systems.
The Dessert banana, like the Cavendish variety, are of huge economic importance to many countries in the Global South, and they account for 43 million tonnes and the Plantain account for 45 million tonnes. Locally consumed bananas are a staple food in many tropical countries and play a major role in terms of food security.
How bananas are grown
Banana plants are often mistaken for trees or palms – they are actually herbs. The banana is a perennial plant that replaces itself. Bananas do not grow from a seed but from a bulb or rhizome, and it takes 9 to 12 months from sowing a banana bulb to harvesting the fruit. The banana flower appears in the sixth or seventh month. Unlike other fruit like apples which have a growing season, bananas are available all year round.
Banana plants thrive in tropical regions where the average temperature is 80° F (27° C) and the yearly rainfall is between 78 and 98 inches. Most bananas exported are grown within 30 degrees either side of the equator. The plants need rich, dark and fertile soils with steady moisture in the air and ground and good drainage.
Growing bananas is, in general, labour intensive. It involves clearing jungle growth, propping of the plants to counter bending from the weight of the growing fruit, and irrigation in some regions. As well as an intensive use of pesticides, the conventional production process involves covering banana bunches with polyethylene bags to protect them from wind, insect and bird attacks, and to maintain optimum temperatures.
Harvesting & Ripening
After nine months, the bananas are harvested while still green. At the packhouse they are inspected and sorted for export. If the bananas do not meet these standards they are usually sold locally at a much lower price.
The fruit is then transported to ports to be packed in refrigerated ships called reefers. In order to increase shelf life, they are transported at a temperature of 13.3°C, and require careful handling in order to prevent damage. Humidity, ventilation and temperature conditions are also carefully monitored in order to maintain quality.
When the bananas arrive at their destination port they are first sent to ripening rooms (a process involving ethylene gas) and then sent to the shops.
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Video resource: The Advance Agriculture