NARITA hybrids cross borders for farmers’ evaluation in Kenya
In improving banana production in East Africa countries, researchers at Kenyatta University in Kenya are now multiplying and testing for the adoption of NARITA hybrid varieties that are high yielding and resistant to Black Sigatoka disease. Banana is the third most important food after maize and rice, with an annual production of 1.5 million tons, lower than the 4.4 million in Uganda and 4 million in Tanzania.
The 25 NARITA hybrids that have been evaluated for agronomic performance in Uganda and Tanzania are going now through similar studies in Kenya under the Climate Smart Banana project (CLISBAN) supported by VIB-International Plant Biotechnology Outreach (IPBO). Part of the project is assessing the potential of the hybrids for adoption by farmers, consumers, and traders. Banana farmers in Kirinyaga, Embu, and Murang’a counties will receive disease-resistant and high-yielding varieties to grow through a partnership with researchers at Kenyatta University.
“NARITA hybrids are high-yielding and disease-resistant hybrids, which are the result of over 20 years of joint breeding efforts between NARO and IITA hence the name,” said Mary Mwangi, CLISMABAN Project lead researcher at Kenyatta University-Department of Biochemistry, Microbiology and Biotechnology.
Mary noted that the poor productivity is attributed to the continued cultivation of low-yielding varieties, deteriorating climatic conditions, soil degradation, pests, and diseases. Past interventions have mainly focused on disseminating disease-free tissue culture seedlings of commercial dessert bananas, with little adoption of cooking banana and plantain that can address the rampant food insecurity in the country.
As an implementing partner, IITA provides technical advice and oversight on the new varieties and their development and evaluation and how best to proceed with experimental aspects, including testing sites.
“Our expectations are for at least one or two NARITA hybrids to be selected as superior and preferred by farmers for adoption due to various characteristics such as production, better disease resistance, taste, cooking quality. We wish to establish that they will perform well under Kenya conditions and provide greater returns to farmers through higher yields, but that they are also liked and selected by farmers and consumers. Ultimately this will lead to the improved well-being of farmers and improved supply of quality bananas to markets that benefit consumers,” expressed Danny Coyne, IITA Soil Health Scientist based in Kenya.
Coyne noted that the varieties are the same as in Uganda and Tanzania, but the overall improvements through this project will be to extend the growth of improved, better yielding bananas to a greater number of people in the region. The project will expand the improved bananas’ growing area, increasing farmer access to better varieties.
Past interventions have mainly focused on the dissemination of disease-free tissue culture seedlings of commercial dessert bananas. Coyne noted that IITA is also looking to introduce new, improved dessert banana resistant to Fusarium wilt (Race 1), a very damaging disease to some of the main dessert bananas grown in Kenya. The work would help farmers and ultimately consumers through improving yields and reduce losses to this major disease.
The Climate Smart Banana Project is funded by the LEAP-Agri: EU-Africa Research and Innovation grant and implemented under a consortium of researchers from Kenya, Uganda, Spain, and Belgium. The project aims to exploit the existing genetic resources and diversity of banana to select varieties resilient to climate change-induced constraints. The project will use a participatory gender-responsive approach that involves all stakeholders in the banana and plantains value chains in Kirinyaga, Embu, and Murang’a counties.
The NARITAs were jointly developed by the National Agricultural Research Organisation and IITA in Uganda at the National Agricultural Research Laboratories Kawanda and the IITA Sendusu research station. Some were later released for commercialization and adoption to farmers. In March 2021, the Tanzania Ministry of Agriculture officially released four NARITA hybrids called TARIBAN 1-4.