Bananas and climate change

Northland bananasThe question is not “is climate change happening?” The question is, “what are we going to do about it?” Some people continue to deny it, others choose to look the other way and hope it will go away, and another group only want to take action if it doesn’t interfere with economic growth.

In his book Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell described a similar scenario. It was the early 1400s and the world was getting colder, not warmer. In Greenland there were two populations – the Vikings and the Inuit. As temperatures dropped, the Inuit were OK, because their staple was fish. The Vikings liked their meat, so when grass growth slowed down, they first ate their mature animals, then the young, and then their dogs. Archeological evidence reveals that the population crashed – and it happened rapidly. The lesson for us is our adaptive capacity.

Bananas as one of many climate change solutions for Northland

The Drawdown project as described in this post, identifies reductions of 1,051 gigaton of CO2 that can be achieved by its top 80 solutions. Food solutions account for 31% of these reductions – 325 gigatons.

Number 14 on the list are tropical fruit crops (including bananas), accounting for a reduction of 20.19 gigatons of CO2 globally, over 30 years.

Tropical staple crops currently grow on 116 million acres, mostly in the tropics. Their rate of sequestration is high at 1.9 tons per acre per year. Expand this area by another 153 million acres by 2050 and they can sequester 20.2 gigatons of additional carbon dioxide. Our analysis assumes that expansion only occurs on existing cropland, with no forest clearing. Because their yield is 2.4 times higher than annual staples—at 60 percent of the cost—savings are signicant, while cost to implement is low. (Drawdown)

New Zealander’s consume about $18 kgs of bananas a year, mostly all imported. If we can grow our own bananas, we would need about 7,700 hectares of bananas to meet our own needs. Northland is great place to grow bananas. We are at the warm end of the temperate zone, but as we are a long skinny peninsula surrounded but the Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea, our climate is benign enough for some tropical crops, especially those from higher tropical altitudes.

Bananas vs. white bread

So can we adapt or are we the 21st Century Vikings? One thing we could do, is to plant and eat more bananas (grown as a perennial crop), and eat less white bread (using wheat derived from an annual crop). Here are some comparisons.

Growing and eating bananas

Buying and eating white bread

Carbon consequences
  • perennial crop with a longer-term presence, building soil carbon
  • large biomass per hectare
  • suits mixed plantings and permaculture approaches
  • grown in Northland, and consumed in Northland
  • minimal to no processing
  • made from wheat, an annual crop with disruptive impacts on soil carbon
  • less biomass per hectare
  • grown as a monoculture sourced from the South Island or imported
  • significant processing
Nutrition consequences
  • Nutrient density rating: 30[1]
  • Glycemic index: 52 for 136 grams[2]
  • Glycemic load: 14 (medium)
  • Higher levels of vitamins and minerals[3]
  • no dodgy additives
  • nutrient density rating: 9
  • glycemic index: 70 for a 30 gm slice
  • glycemic load: 10 (low)
  • generally lower levels of vitamins and minerals[4]
  • additives including possibly canola oil, sugar, acidity regulator and emulsifiers
Economic and social consequences
  • locally grown
  • can be grown in home gardens and by small holders
  • imported from out of region
  • production dominated by large companies

Go bananas!

In another lesson from history, The people of England were collectively traumatised by the First World War and didn’t want to be involved in another. They tried to ignore the threat that Adolf Hitler posed in a “fog of denial”. But Winston Churchill persisted in raising the alarm.

“The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.”

Winston Smoking a bananaBananas are part of our Northland climate change solution, so to paraphrase Sir Winston, … we shall plant them near the beaches, we shall plant them in the school grounds, we shall plant them in the fields and in the streets, we shall plant them in the hills; we shall never surrender.




[1] from  Dr. Furhman’s Nutrient density chart

[2] from SelfNutritionData: lowest number is best

[3] For additional nutritional information about bananas:

[4] For additional nutritional information about white bread:

[1] from  Dr. Furhman’s Nutrient density chart

[2] from SelfNutritionData: lowest number is best

[3] For additional nutritional information about bananas:

[4] For additional nutritional information about white bread:


One thought on “Bananas and climate change

  1. Interesting article Peter. Planting more bananas makes a lot of sense in a rapidly warming climate, as does the idea of us becoming more flexible in what we will use for a staple diet. However, just planting bananas will do little to increase resilience of food supply, and especially if grown using the energy intensive, mono-cropping plantation model favoured by industrial agriculture. When a hurricane blows through it will destroy the banana crops and I believe we would be advised to have alternatives growing amongst the bananas such as taro, cassava, yam, and Queensland arrowroot. We would also help reduce damage to bananas if they were grown in such a way as to shelter them in mixed plantings with tree crops. We would also be advised to create systems that maximise the soils ability to capture and hold onto excess water while also better withstanding the predicted increase of more frequent and severe droughts.
    I remain very concerned that we continue to think about crops as resources to be exploited for profit because, if markets collapse as predicted, then how will local people with little money buy them? And will we see the same as already happens in the 3rd World where starving people see local food exported to the highest bidder?
    To me it is a no brainer that we need to step back, reconsider our basic values, plan for imminent climate, food and water crises and create worker owned cooperatives that are funded with local banks and local currencies. I do not believe we can rely on central government to achieve this and I believe that if done locally, we can create much more equal systems that will give us a better chance of survival.
    Whatever we do, if we do not reduce our use of fossil fuels then its unlikely that humanity will survive – Elon Musk gives us 50 years and even Stephen Hawking now predicts humanity will go extinct within 100 years.
    We are locked into a system that requires continued economic growth and consumerism. I do not believe that any of this can be achieved without our leaders showing the way by being the first to adopt lower wages, more simple living and greater power and decision sharing. Its a paradigm shift of such magnitude that its hard to see people being willing to take the plunge, however, if they do, it could release the most amazing level of transformative cooperation, creativity and resilience building that any of us have ever experienced. It would lead to our councils, schools, educational establishments, businesses and financial systems being completely changed.
    Sorry about, just shows how banana monocrops in a time of climate change can lead on to other matters.
    Maybe the very first thing that needs to happen for people to even consider supporting this sort of action is a definitive local document on climate change, if its real, how soon its happening, how bad it is, what we can expect if it is happening and how we can respond.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s