New $13.8 million project aims to boost banana production in Uganda and Tanzania

The researchers expect their hybrid 

banana varieties to have a 

30% higher yield and a 

50% higher resistance. 
© Rony Swennen

6 March 2015scidev.net. A five-year project that aims to improve banana farming in Tanzania and Uganda by creating high-yielding and disease-resistant banana hybrids is set to begin trials in June 2015.

The project, which received US$13.8 million funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in October last year, aims to develop banana varieties for smallholder farmers in the two countries where banana is a staple food for millions of people.

The IITA, Bioversity International and the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas are also providing substantial co-financing.

Uganda and Tanzania produce more than 50 per cent of all bananas cultivated in Africa, but achieve only nine per cent of the crop’s potential yield because of pests and diseases, according to the Nigeria-headquartered International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). The project will be implemented by IITA, with five doctoral and eight master’s students expected to receive research grants.

“Beneficiaries will come from Uganda’s National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) and IITA, and most master’s and doctoral students will be selected on a competitive basis,” says Rony Swennen, project leader and head of banana breeding at IITA. The research projects will include pest and disease control, and genetics.

The venture, says Swennen, hopes to boost resistance to common banana pests including banana weevil and nematodes; and diseases such as Black sigatoka also called black leaf streak — and Fusarial wilt disease by up to 50 per cent, while raising yields by 30 per cent higher than the current potential. Swennen adds that in June the plants will be introduced in five field sites for trials and evaluation. The venture will build on 26 already existing hybrid varieties developed earlier jointly by NARO and IITA.

Related:
Video Emission du 13 janvier 2014. Dans l’histoire d’ABE, c’est la première fois qu’une émission est consacrée à la banane et c’est aussi la première fois que l’éthique des entreprises est soumise à un véritable test.

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