Image: Wikimedia Commons.

A bit of warmth and we all go bananas!?

In a warming world, could bananas really replace potatoes?

Image: Wikimedia Commons.
Image: Wikimedia Commons.

‘Bananas could replace potatoes in warming world’ – a headline from the BBC (the British Broadcasting Corporation), which is not usually noted for over-hyping a story, but which on this occasion is a little sensationalist. However, it does relate to a Policy Brief authored by Philip Thornton, entitled ‘Recalibrating Food Production in the Developing World: Global Warming Will Change More Than Just the Climate’. Produced by the CCAFS (Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security) group of CGIAR (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research), it deals with aspects of ‘food security’ and looks ahead to 2050 and considers the agricultural ‘adjustments’ that may be necessary to cope with climate change and feeding the projected 9–10 billion people on the planet.

Among its findings are that climate change could lead to crops from the banana family becoming a critical food source for millions of people, and the fruit might even replace potatoes in some countries. (The report also considers the present and future roles of yam, millet, cassava, chickpea and cowpea. But, as less-widely known crops – in the so-called developed world at any rate – they’ve not caught the media’s attention in the same way as the more familiar bananas and potatoes.) Understandably, the suggestion that bananas might ‘replace’ potatoes has drawn various comments, but probably none more succinct than, ‘Bananas replace potatoes? Hell will freeze over first!’ from a Mike Jackson on the Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog. Surely, not that Mike Jackson (Founding Chief Editor of our sister journal AoB Plants)? But at least it presents an alternative – if somewhat extreme – scenario to the more usual one-sided notion of global warming!

Now, I like banana; I also like potato, but which one is better? There’s only one way to find out: Fight! And since the genomes of both potato and banana have recently been sequenced, it’s up to the crop developers to battle it out. But one thing in favour of bananas, you can eat green ones – indeed Renata Zandonadi et al. show that gluten-free flour can be made from what is normally shunned as a ‘subproduct of low commercial value with little industrial use’, with health benefits, for example, for those suffering from coeliac disease (an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine). But you shouldn’t eat green potatoes. And you can apparently use a banana to fix a scratched DVD.  So, ‘High Fyffes’ all round? (

(For more on aspects of food security, don’t forget to check out the November 2012 issue of the Annals of Botany, which has a Highlight section featuring eight papers that examine various aspects of breeding for improvement in forage and grass species – Ed.).

(For a typically alternative view on the bananas vs potatoes debate, check out the daily mash – P. Cuttings, Junior.)

(For more on an ‘alternative Mike Jackson’, visit his blog – M.J.)

Nigel Chaffey

I am a botanist and former Senior Lecturer in Botany at Bath Spa University (Bath, near Bristol, UK). As News Editor for the Annals of Botany I contributed the monthly Plant Cuttings column to that august international botanical organ - and to Botany One - for almost 10 years. I am now a freelance plant science communicator and Visiting Research Fellow at Bath Spa University. I continue to share my Cuttingsesque items - and appraisals of books with a plant focus - with a plant-curious audience. In that guise my main goal is to inform (hopefully, in an educational, and entertaining way) others about plants and plant-people interactions, and thereby improve humankind's botanical literacy. Happy to be contacted to discuss potential writing - or talking - projects and opportunities.
[ORCID: 0000-0002-4231-9082]

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