Bananas are difficult to breed because of its complex genetics, low genetic variability, polyploidy and the low levels of female and/or male fertility in most widely-grown triploid clones. Past efforts to develop East African Highland Banana (EAHB: Matooke) hybrids by the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) of Uganda in collaboration with IITA has led to the development of 27 EAHB hybrids called NARITAs. It took 18 years to generate these hybrids, and they present a significant progression from pre-existing cultivars.
Here we aim at improving the efficiency of this banana breeding pipeline and increasing the rate of delivering improved EAHB and another group of Highland Bananas, Mchare, with increased levels of pest and disease resistance, higher yields and better consumer acceptability. This involves widening the profile of female fertile parents through in-depth floral development studies at two locations with different agro-ecological conditions in Uganda and Tanzania, and under glasshouse conditions at KU Leuven, Belgium. The key factors limiting seed set in female fertile and sterile Matooke and Mchare varieties are being determined. Manipulation of the pollination techniques to improve fertilization efficiency and overcome fertilization impediments of Matooke and Mchare crosses are being explored. We are improving the male parent profiles through crossing the diploids within the NARO/IITA breeding programs. Improved diploids, imported from breeding programs in Brazil (EMBRAPA) and India (NRCB), are also being evaluated for novel traits, such as male fertility (by quantifying their pollen) and seed set. Targeted crosses between improved diploids and female fertile parents are leading to increased rates of production of hybrids with multiple desired traits. Consequently, thousands of Matooke and Mchare hybrids are being generated and evaluated for selection.
IITA, Tanzania, Uganda
University of Malaya, Malaysia
KU Leuven, Belgium