The production of the East Africa Highland banana, also known as cooking banana and "matoke" in the region is poised to get a boost with the distribution of the first-ever, high-yielding, and disease-resistant hybrid varieties.
The 26 hybrid varieties are a result of over 20 years of joint breeding efforts between the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) of Uganda and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). They are dubbed NARITAs (NARO_IITA).
IITA and NARO recently entered into an agreement to test the hybrids in all the banana growing areas in East Africa in collaboration with the respective national programs and Bioversity International.
With nearly 60% higher yield than the local "matoke", these hybrids are also resistant to black Sigatoka, an important fungal disease of the crop worldwide that affects the leaves and leads to losses of 30-80%.
In preparation for the regional testing, all the 26 varieties were sent to IITA-Ibadan for pathogen indexing to ensure they are free of any disease-causing organisms such as viruses and can be safely transported to other countries.
East Africa is the originator and highest consumer of the highland banana in the world. However, the crop is afflicted by low yield and plagued by a host of pests and diseases such as black Sigatoka, nematodes, and weevils.