TANZANIA is set to host the world’s largest banana research and development centre, majoring in indigenous varieties of matooke, mchare and Cavendish.
The Banana Centre of Excellence will be at the Nelson Mandela Institution of Science and Technology (NM-AIST) already with about 14 partners in a new development that has attracted national and international interest.
NM-AIST Vice Chancellor, Prof Emmanuel Luoga, said the centre would conduct researches on how to improve banana cultivation, with varieties that were resistant to diseases and pests and benefit many growers in the Northern Zone of Tanzania, to start with.
Coordinator of the projects that the centre is included in, Prof Karoli Njau, from the NM-AIST School of Water Resources and Environmental Science and Engineering (WESE) said they would cooperate with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) that sought to improve banana for smallholder farmers in the Great Lakes Region.
Prof Njau said the centre that would be of its kind and largest in the world, among other things, would be dealing with banana management for better production and researches had been going on at Lyamungo and Tarakea in Kilimanjaro Region as well as at NM-AIST field. Growers will be guided on varieties and how best to manage the production.
Professors involved in the project, Rony Swennen and Patrick Ndakidemi, said about seven per cent of the population in the region consumed matooke variety, while between 20-30 per cent of the population in selected rural regions depended on mchare that was said to be regionally important.
Prof Ndakidemi noted that with students from Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia and Comoro, NM-AIST would be engaging in the major project and ensure the centres had clearly set modalities to ensure sustainability, including making sure that it was properly manned.
IITA and NM-AIST agreed to strengthen relationship in January, when Mr Victor Manyong, IITA Director for East Africa called at NM-AIST and held talks with Prof Luoga. They collaborate in efforts to build Africa’s capacity for science and technology.
They already have in place a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) based on collaboration in the banana research project. The university currently houses IITA’s banana research team and provides fields for the crop’s breeding trials.
Banana is a popular fruit in the world market and serves as an ideal and low-cost staple food in East Africa, whose residents rely mostly on it as a source of food. It is practically a non-seasonal crop reliably grown by local farmers primarily for food. It has been categorised as the dessert bananas and cooking bananas.
Banana plays a key role in food security. It serves as a source of carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins all year-round. The banana crop provides a household annual income of about $ 1,500, the highest smallholder income-generating crop in the region.
Currently, several indigenous and improved cultivars exist in East Africa. However, only a few popular cultivars are produced for commercial purposes.