(Musa acuminata & balbisiana hybrids)
Banana and plantain are perennial crops that take the appearance of trees as they mature. Diverse cultivars are grown. Musa are believed to have originated in Southeast Asia but their introduction into Africa is unclear.
Throughout history Musa has provided humans with food, medicine, clothing, tools, shelter, furniture, paper, and handicrafts. It could be termed the “first fruit crop” as its cultivation originated during a time when hunting and gathering were still the principal means of acquiring food.
Musa are rich in vitamin C, B6, minerals and dietary fibre. They are also a rich energy source, with carbohydrates accounting for 22% and 32% of fruit weight for banana and plantain, respectively.
Bananas are cultivated in nearly all tropical regions of the world. Of particular importance to Africa is the East African Highland Banana (EAHB) which is a staple starchy food for 80 million people and important source of income. There are 120 EAHB varieties in Uganda alone that are not found anywhere else in the world.
Plantain resemble banana but are longer in length, have a thicker skin, and contain more starch. They are also a major staple food in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. They are usually cooked and not eaten raw unless they are very ripe. Plantains are more important in the humid lowlands of West and Central Africa. One hundred or more different varieties of plantain grow deep in the African rainforests.
Banana and plantain are important staple foods in many developing countries, especially in Africa. Of the numerous edible varieties, the EAHB accounts for 17% of the types of Musa grown worldwide, and plantain accounts for another 19%. They provide food security and income for small-scale farmers who represent the majority of producers. Only about 15% of the global banana and plantain production is involved in international trade; most production is consumed domestically.
Banana starch, flour, and chips are processed banana products whose markets are yet to be fully developed.
More than 100 million tons of banana and plantain were produced worldwide in 2007 according to FAO estimates.
Banana are grown in nearly 130 countries. Uganda is the largest producer of banana and plantain in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), followed by Rwanda, Ghana, Nigeria, and Cameroon.
Banana and plantain are cultivated in a wide variety of environments. Plants produce fruit year round, can produce for up to one hundred years and are suitable for intercropping. Vegetative propagation is necessary because they rarely produce seeds and those are not true to variety.
In 2007 more than 9.9 million hectares of banana and plantain were harvested worldwide. Where marketed across longer distances, post-harvest plantain losses are heavy due to poor handling and transport conditions and inadequate market access routes.
Africans annually consume 21 kg of banana and plantain per capita, but Ugandans consume 191 kg per year, or more than half of one kg per day. In fact, Ugandans use the same word for food as the name of the local banana dish matooke. Four African countries have the highest per capita consumption of banana/plantain in the world, with Uganda having the highest.
Pest and disease incidence
Black Sigatoka disease is considered the most economically important disease of banana worldwide, causing typical yield losses up to 50%. The fungus grows on the leaves producing dark spots and causes the fruits to ripen prematurely. Banana Xanthomonas Wilt (BXW) attacks almost all varieties of Musa, destroying the fruits and devastating the crop. It was first identified in Ethiopia in the 1970s, but spread rapidly to other parts of the Great Lakes region after reaching Uganda in 2001. Fusarium wilt has had a huge impact on the world banana trade and is found in every banana/plantain producing area. It is spread through corms used for planting.
The major banana and plantain pests are the burrowing nematode and the banana weevil. Nematode species attack the plant’s roots, resulting in whole plant toppling or reduced yield. The banana weevil, Cosmopolites sordidus, attacks the plant’s underground corm, weakening the plant and causing stem breakage.
IITA’s research and impact
IITA scientists have developed and introduced high yielding, disease- and pest-resistant varieties with durable fruit quality. Various institutions have adopted IITA’s different Musa breeding schemes.
IITA has also developed and is promoting hot water treatment to rid plants of nematodes and to produce clean planting materials. Another important control tactic is the use of nematode-antagonistic plants that inhibit nematode reproduction.
To combat BXW, IITA is collaborating with partners internationally to develop reliable and cost effective diagnostic tools. Also, a genetic transformation system developed and optimized at IITA can be used to produce BXW-resistant varieties of banana.
IITA has successfully identified variations within the Black Sigatoka species in Africa and the possibility to design new diagnostic tools. Such tools would enhance the capacity of subsequent projects in selected countries in SSA.