Ugandan journal says IITA’s breeding efforts to benefit no less than 15,000 farmers
Recently, the NEW VISION journal of Uganda, reported that IITA’s laudable efforts breeding banana with desirable characteristics will benefit at least 15,000 smallholder farmers in the country. This assistance will be channeled through a new $5-millon project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to boost the crop’s productivity in the country.
The new 4-year project, run by National Agricultural Research Laboratories (NARL) Kawanda, will be piloted in 3 districts in Mbarara (Western region), Nakaseke district (Central region) and Kabarole district (Rwenzori region). A total of 5,000 households in each region are expected to benefit. The project dubbed “Improving scalable banana agronomy for small-scale farmers in highland banana cropping systems in East Africa” will jointly be implemented in Tanzania, where 10,000 framers are also expected to benefit.
Speaking during the launch of the project in Kampala, Jerome Kubiriba, Head of banana research program at National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO), explained that the project implementers will visit successful banana farmers, look at their best practices and use these farmers to demonstrate and teach other farmers in the region how to replicate the good practices.
NARO will also examine practices deemed unfit to improve production on the successful farms, do research, refine these practices, and go back to farmers and encourage them to use them. “We shall provide farmers with information on good banana management practices such as improving plant nutrition through applying manure or fertilizer, soil and water management, pest and disease control,” he said.
Kaphas Nawakunda from NARO said that in the past, priority in the banana sector has always been put on control of pests and diseases because it was the farmers major outcry. He said that now that there are banana hybrids that are resistant to pests and diseases, it is time to focus on improving productivity. Nawakunda said banana farmers in Uganda have the potential to yield over 30 tons per hectare per year, but some are yielding as low as 5 or 10 tons per hectare per year. The project seeks to increase the yield to 25 tons per hectare per year.
In February this year, 10 million Ugandans were reported to be food insecure, and basing on these statistics, Jim Lorenzen, program officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation advised project implementers to come up with innovative, but low-cost technology. He said the right skills will enable them to achieve optimal banana production to address food insecurity and poverty, since bananas are one of the major food crops in the country.
Meanwhile, NARO and IITA have finalized breeding 48 new disease-resistant banana varieties under another $14 million project funded by the Gates Foundation.
Rony Swennen, IITA Banana Breeder, said these new varieties will also meet over 90% of the quality traits for consumers. He said 25 of the 48 new varieties are undergoing testing at five locations in Uganda and Tanzania. He asserted that by the end of the project, they expect to develop hybrid banana varieties with a 30% higher yield and 50% higher resistance to at least three of the major pests and diseases.
The two major diseases to be addressed are the fusarium wilt and black leaf streak diseases (Sigatoka). The pests are the parasitic nematodes and weevils borers (Kayovu). The two pests attack the comb of the plant and weaken its root, retarding its growth before it eventually falls when the wind blows. They account for between 30% and 40% of losses in banana plantations, although the damage can be heavier in poorly managed plantations.
Uganda is ranked the second largest producer of bananas at 11.1 million tons per year, after India with 29.7 million tons. However, Uganda is the number one consumer of bananas at 240 kg per capita per annum. In East Africa, about 50 million people depend on banana production for food and income and the crop also contributes $4.3 billion, about 5% gross domestic product (GDP) of the East African region. Culled from the NEW VISION, 28 April 2017