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Ugandan banana breeders: It’s critical to add genetic engineering to our toolbox

Up until now, Ugandan researchers have been successful at developing robust hybrid bananas through conventional breeding techniques. Yet they see a strong need to adopt GM varieties of the fruit, so critical to their nation.

They argue that using conventional breeding to develop hybrid cooking bananas is a tedious affair, taking more than half a dozen years to get them market-ready. And while the conventional hybrids offer the promise of high yields, they lack the critical pest and disease resistance offered by GM bananas.

East Africa is the largest producing and consuming region of bananas in Africa, with Uganda being the world’s second leading producer (behind India). It is estimated that 75 percent of Ugandan farming households grow this crop, on about 1.5 million hectares.

Despite the crop’s importance as food security, its productivity has been declining over time, particularly in central Uganda where crops have been ravaged by pests and diseases.

In order to reverse this trend, scientists at the National Agricultural Research Laboratories -with colleagues from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA)- initiated a breeding program in 1994 using a participatory plant breeding approach. The program has developed several new hybrid varieties. They have focused on increasing the yield of crop by doubling the size of the bunch to help solve the challenge of food security.


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