General background

The East and Central Africa (ECA) region has over 50% of its permanent cropping area under banana cultivation, which currently represents around half of the total area under banana cultivation across Africa. Bananas are an indispensable part of life in this region providing up to one fifth of total calorie consumption per capita. In Tanzania and Uganda millions of smallholder banana farmers rely on banana as a staple food and major source of income where the region’s yearly banana crop is valued at $4.3 billion. The average daily per capita energy consumption from bananas in the region is 147 kcal: 15-fold greater than the global average and 6-fold the Africa average. However, pests and diseases pose a serious threat to the future sustainability of banana production in the region, such as Fusarium Wilt and Black Leaf Streak diseases, nematode and weevils pests, resulting in the crop achieving around just 9% of its potential yield. There are many potential technology-based interventions for increasing banana yields but host plant resistance remains the most appropriate and cost effective intervention given the current stage of development of banana systems in the region. The project aims to achieve a 50% higher resistance to at least three of the major pests and diseases, while at the same time developing a more efficient breeding platform. Host-plant resistance also offers the advantage for significant spillover benefits for human health and positive environmental impacts.

Building on past successes

Past breeding efforts by NARO, Uganda in collaboration with IITA successfully developed the first ever hybrids of the East African Highland Banana that were named NARITA . Currently there are 27 NARITAs, two of which were formally released as new cultivars in 2010 by NARO and are so far being grown in 15% of the banana farms in Uganda. Under this project, many of these NARITA’s will be tested and promoted across the region for suitability and acceptance by farmers.

The project will conduct studies to understand the genetic make-up and diversity of existing banana cultivars to identify sources of resistance to the major pests and diseases. This will be complemented by studies to understand the spread and damage caused by these pests and diseases towards development and application of quick diagnostic tools and faster screening mechanisms to assess for resistance.