BANANA is an important staple food in East and Central Africa providing significant sources of income to farmers in rural areas but they are under threat of pest and diseases that cause yield loss.
Millions of smallholder farmers in Tanzania and Uganda rely on banana as a staple food and as a major source of income. The two countries produce over a half of all bananas grown in Africa, with the region's yearly banana crop valued at US 4.3 billion dollars.
Speaking with the 'Daily News', at this year’s NaneNane agricultural exhibition at Nyakabindi grounds in Simiyu Region, the National Coordinator of banana research from Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute-Maruku centre (TARI-Maruku) in Kagera Region Dr Mpoki Shimwela said that in Tanzania, about 30 per cent of Tanzania’s population derive their carbohydrates from green bananas resulting to per capital consumption of about 84 kilogramme per year.
According to Dr Shimwela in Tanzania, most of the bananas (over 70 per cent of bananas) are grown in Kagera, Kilimanjaro and Mbeya regions. Other regions producing significant amount of bananas are Morogoro, Kigoma, Mara, Arusha, Ruvuma, Tanga, and Coast.
Despite the economic importance of banana in the country especially in Kagera, Kilimanjaro and Mbeya regions, the sustainable production of banana is threatened by pathogens and pests, posing a risk to household income generation and food security in rural areas, Dr Shimwela said.
Tanzania Agriculture Research Institutes (TARI) in collaborations with its partners, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), the National Agriculture Research organization of Uganda (NARO) and Bioversity International have been developing and evaluating the high yielding matooke varieties namely NARITA hybrids for possible distribution to farmers.
According to Dr Shimwela the evaluation of NARITAs hybrids in Tanzania started in 2015 by which the total of 29 NARITAs hybrids were introduced and agronomical evaluated for four years for yield, consumer acceptability and pest and diseases resistant.
He noted, the evaluation was conducted in three sites namely Mbeya, Kagera and Kilimanjaro regions. After screening the 29 NARITAs genotypes, ten (10) potential clones were selected for release in Tanzania including NARITA 2, NARITA 4, NARITA 7, NARITA 18, NARITA 23, NARITA 4, NARITA 22, NARITA 26, NARITA 20 and NARITA 14.
"All these selected clones have 30 per cent higher yield compared to the current matooke varieties grown by farmers under the same conditions. They have good test and are resistant to pest and disease," the research explained.
He narrated that the process for official release of the new improved matooke varieties is under way in collaboration with Tanzania Official Seed Certification Institute (TOSCI), adding, this is the first ever for banana varieties to be officially released.
This is a greater achievement, as the banana is one of the most difficult crop to breed.
“It took 18 years to generate these hybrids. After the official release there will be a promotion campaign to distribute these new varieties to the farmers. Planting materials will be multiplied through tissue culture laboratories, macro-propagator and seed nurseries."
At the same time, farmers can obtain suckers and evaluate the performance of the new varieties in the demonstration plots which will be established in different areas in banana producing regions.
He said that the small scale farmers will be highly benefited from these new improved matooke varieties.
"Unlike many staple crops, bananas produce food throughout the year, making them an ideal crop for improving household incomes and providing food security”.
With 30 per cent yield increase these new matooke varieties ensured food security and sustainable incomes to banana farmers in rural areas.
Bananas grown in a wide range of environments and farming systems including pure stands, coffee/banana farming systems intercropping with other crops like beans and yams.
They produce fruit all-year around, which puts them above other crops as a food and income security crop as they are superior in bridging the ‘hunger gap’ between annual crop harvests.
Banana plants also make an important contribution to environmental conservation as they are perennial with roots and broad leaves that help to maintain soil structure and provide protective soil cover throughout the year.
Tanzania ranks second after Uganda in banana production in East Africa, producing approximately 3.7 million tonnes per year from some 450,000 hectares.
Despite the importance of bananas, its production in Tanzania has drastically reduced over the past decade. Farmers are producing a mere 9.0 per cent of what is actually possible, largely as a result of the devastating impact of pests and diseases such as black Sigatoka, Nematodes and banana weevils.
Several interventions such as cultural methods have been deployed by farmers to control these pests and diseases but have not been very effectively.
Use of host plant resistance is the more effective and durable option for the management of banana problems. Host plant resistance is cost effective, environmentally friendly and durable and easily adoptable by the small-scale farmers.
On his part, TARI Board Chairman, Dr Yohana Budeba said that his centre shares modern technology to farmers and other stakeholders as a very vital since it helps to boost production.
"We as board members of TARI, work with TARI to produce research findings focused on improving and boosting agriculture sector in Tanzania, Banana as among of staple food in Tanzania strong strategies should be put in place to increase production," he said.
TARI Director General, Dr Godfrey Mkamilo said that the centre was focused on shifting agriculture sector to a business that contributes fully to national development and raise farmers' incomes.