Tanzania’s traditional cooking banana yields more than expected!

27 February 2020

The yield potential of an important cooking banana in Tanzania, known as Mchare, has exceeded expectations! Yields of up to 51 t/ha/year were obtained by the study team.

Mchare, alongside Uganda’s “Matooke” is one of the East Africa Highland (EAHB) bananas that are cultivated both for food and income by millions of smallholder farmers in the Great Lakes Region of Africa. However, their yields are extremely low with farmers getting as little as 7 t/ha/year. This is primarily caused by low soil fertility due to continuous production without replenishing nutrients.

The study team, drawn from the Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology in Tanzania, in collaboration with KU Leuven University, Belgium, and IITA established the yield potential of Mchare following a 3-year study in different agroecological environments across the Pangani District of Tanga Region, Tanzania.

Akida Meya, one of the researchers, in one of the study fields

Yields of up to 51 t/ha/year obtained in the study showed that the current production is less than half of its potential. The yield levels were also similar to those of the popular dessert export Cavendish banana, and higher than triploids of plantain and Matooke. Mchare are diploids, meaning they have two copies of chromosomes, while triploids have an extra set and are considered to be superior to diploids.

The study also showed the importance of combining both organic and inorganic fertilizers and not relying solely on any one of them to boost production. Applying manure increased yields up to 47 t/ha/year. However, since there is less manure available due to population increase and less grazing land, the study shows that halving the amount of manure is feasible, and applying some inorganic fertilizer can result in higher yields.

The head of the banana program, Tanzania Agriculture Research Institute (TARI), Dr Mpoki Shimwela,  noted that this is the first study of its kind in Tanzania saying “it builds a strong case for the use of fertilizer among banana farmers as it clearly demonstrates that banana yield can be increased significantly by combining farmyard manure and inorganic fertilizer.”

A bunch of Mchare banana

“Banana is cultivated as a perennial crop on soils that are no longer fertile. However, farmers do not invest much in soil fertility due to the high cost of farmyard manure. They also lack knowledge on how to use inorganic fertilizers which are easily available but not commonly used by banana farmers. And worse still, in the Kagera region in northwestern Tanzania, farmers believe that inorganic fertilizers damage the soil,” he said.

Shemale further stressed the need to create awareness on this significant achievement among farmers through demonstration plots and farmer field schools for quick adoption. He added that more studies of this kind are needed in other banana producing areas of Tanzania, specifically in Matooke-producing areas of Kagera and Mbeya regions.

Rony Swennen, Head of IITA’s banana breeding program and one of the research team members, also noted that the findings of the study will also have an impact on the banana breeding community.

“The findings of this study are significant for the banana breeding community, which has tended to focus more on triploids as they believe diploids are very low yielders. Therefore more diploids need to be investigated and banana breeding programs need to revisit the concept that the end product of a breeding program should always be a triploid,” he said.

The study findings are also key for IITA’s banana research program and the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB), which aims to increase the yields of plantain and the East African highland cooking bananas—EAHB (Matooke and Mchare) as they are the principal source of dietary carbohydrates for over 30 million people in Africa. Most of these bananas are processed by cooking, boiling, frying, pounding, juicing, etc. before consumption.

Matooke and Mchare are cultivated in the highlands of Eastern and Central Africa (Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, DR Congo, Kenya, and Tanzania) where they provide up to one-fifth of the total calorie consumption per capita.

This study was published in the open-access article Optimizing Soil Fertility Management Strategies to Enhance Banana Production in Volcanic Soils of the Northern Highlands, Tanzania, Agronomy 2020, 10, 289; on 18 February 2020.