NEW DELHI, May 8 (PTI): Food and Agriculture Organisation has expressed concern over the shrinking wild banana species in India due to loss of forest cover and rapid urbanisation.
With an annual production of 16.8 million tonnes, India was the world's biggest banana grower, the UN body said in a release.
It warned that urbanisation, 'slash-and-burn' cultivation and the loss of forest as a result of encroachment were causing a rapid loss of wild banana species.
The world's total banana output stood at 72.6 million tonnes in 2005.
"Indian subcontinent has made an enormous contribution to the global genetic base of bananas. But due to ecosystem destruction, it is probable that many valuable gene sources have now been lost," FAO Agricultural Officer NeBambi Lutalaido said.
It could cause a serious problem because bananas had a narrow genetic pool and were highly vulnerable to pests and diseases, Lutalaido added.
Among the species that have existed for years and are becoming extinct, are the ancestors of Cavendish variety -- the large, pulpy dessert banana -- that currently accounts for virtually the entire global trade, amounting to 20 million tonnes a year.
FAO urged a systematic exploration of the wild bananas' that remain in forest habitat to assess the damage and to catalogue the number and types of surviving wild species.
It also called for conservation efforts focusing on better land management by local populations, and research on expanding the use of wild bananas in breeding programmes.
India's extinct banana species include a variety which displayed genetic resistance to the dreaded black Sigatoka fungus disease that devastated plantations in the Amazon and elsewhere, FAO said.
It mentioned that only one clone of the species remains at the Indian Botanical Gardens in Calcutta.