Arusha — BANANA growers have been hailed for leaping into global visibility among peers in science, feeding over 70 million people especially in Tanzania and Uganda.
The Interim Executive Secretary of the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in East and Central Africa (ASARECA), Dr Cyprian Ebong said here recently that now banana is an internationally tradable commodity in the international market.
In his opening remarks at a workshop conducted by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) to review and plan a five-year project 'Improvement of banana for smallholder farmers in the Great Lakes Region of Africa', Dr Ebong said that the global export value of banana increased from US$ 9-11.8 billion from 2012 to 2016.
He said that, ASARECA's mission was to mobilize collective effort for investments in agricultural transformation, merging of networks into priority programmes, brokering partnerships for synergies, facilitate collective efforts, promote private sector participation in the uptake pathways.
The Programme Administrator, Scola Ponera said that the meeting taking place at the Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology (NM-AIST) aims at expanding and speeding up existing breeding efforts in Tanzania and Uganda. It is set to develop and deliver to farmers higher yielding cooking banana hybrids, which are resistant to the diseases black Sigatoka and Fusarium wilt and the pests, weevils and nematodes.
"The meeting brings together the project team and partners to present, reflect and assess achievements of the first three and a half years of the project in relation to the results framework and results tracker; identify weaknesses and areas for strengthening within the project; strengthen team collaboration within and among the work packages," she said.
Partners in the project include NM-AIST, Tanzania, the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) and Tanzania (ARI-Horti-Tengeru), Bioversity International and BTI Cornell University-USA.
Others are the Institute of Experimental Botany-Czech Republic, David H. Murdoch Research Institute-USA, SLU-Sweden, Stellenbosch University-South Africa, KU Leuven-Belgium, the University of Malaya-Malaysia, University of North Carolina at Charlotte-USA, University of Queensland-Australia, Weill Cornell Medical College-USA and the national breeding programmes in Brazil (EMBRAPA) and India (NRCB). The team met for five days for deliberations.
"The Breeding Better Banana Project is focused on breeding varieties that farmers like and resistant to diseases. However, bananas are difficult to breed because they are sterile and do not produce seeds.
Breeders deal with this challenge by using fertile parent varieties that produce seed but the process takes long time," said a Lead Banana Breeder at the IITA, Professor Rony Swennen. Banana is an important staple food crop and major source of income for millions of small- holder farmers in Tanzania and Uganda producing over half of all bananas in Africa.
The Breeding Better Banana Project is focusing on the two most popular cooking bananas in the region, East Africa Highland Banana (EAHB) also known as Matooke and Mchare which is grown mostly in Tanzania. The project brings together leading banana researchers from Tanzania, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Czech Republic, India, Kenya, Malaysia, South Africa, Sweden, Uganda and USA.