Banana farmers in Hainan Province have been hit by a slump in prices since as early as April.
This has occurred as the prices of almost all other primary products, such as corn, pork and eggs, have surged.
The main culprit was believed to be a text message via mobile phones, which spread a rumor that a virus similar to SARS was found in a banana from the southern island, according to a China Central Television report over the weekend.
Meng Xuru, director of a provincial office in charge of the development of subtropical crops, said the message was not widely spread in Hainan, but many people in some major cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, have received it.
Meng said it was a heavy blow for farmers, as 85 percent of Hainan's bananas are sold on the mainland market.
Besides linking the banana to Hainan, the malicious message was widely sent in April, harvest season, Meng said.
A lot of bananas rotted on trees or in fields in Chengmai County, a major banana supplier in Hainan, the CCTV report said.
A female banana farmer surnamed Zhang said they could sell bananas at more than two yuan (25 US cents) a kilogram last year. This year they have cut the price to 0.2 yuan per kilogram.
Zhang said buyers are now scarce.
Zhang Xiyan, a scientist specializing in banana breeding, said the message was nothing less than a rumor, as a plant virus is totally different from an animal one. It's impossible that a flu virus infecting people will contaminate bananas, he noted.
Local agricultural officials believe it is a conspiracy. The provincial agricultural department has reported the case to the provincial public security department.
He Bangqi, a spokesman for the public security department, said one motive is that someone wanted to create havoc in society by spreading the message.
Another reason may be that someone wanted banana prices to drop and then cash in on fluctuations.
(Shanghai Daily June 4, 2007)