Station: Tanzania (Arusha)
Rony Swennen obtained his PhD at KU Leuven, Belgium in 1984. After a brief research stay in the Canary Islands, Spain, he joined IITA in 1979 as the first scientist at IITA’s High rainfall substation, Onne, Nigeria. There he started plantain research initially focusing on physiology in support of agronomy, and taxonomy. He became Associate Scientist (1982), Research Coordinator (1985), and in 1987 Core Scientist. He initiated and run the plantain breeding program that resulted in black sigatoka-resistant plantain for which IITA was awarded the International King Baudouin Award.
He collected worldwide banana and plantain varieties that laid the basis for the International Transit Centre of banana, Leuven, Belgium. In 1990 he became Senior lecturer at KU Leuven and by 1997 full professor. His Laboratory of Tropical Crop Improvement hosts the world banana collection, Bioversity International, with collaborations in 103 countries. Cryopreservation techniques were developed for banana and later for another 27 plant species. His group also developed the first transgenic bananas in the early 90s with field tests in two locations.
He is a strong believer in phenotyping and therefore initiated a proteomics and transcriptomics platform. In 1995 he became a member of the Royal Academy, Belgium, and Honorary Research Fellow of Bioversity International. He is a member of the Global Musa Genomics Consortium (since 2002). He was a member of several scientific committees of international conferences on banana and organized two international conferences in Leuven (on Cryopreservation and on Molecular Biology of Bananas). He received several international awards and a chieftancy in Nigeria.