Because of its unique history and biology, the banana has lagged behind most other crops with regards to genetic improvement. As a consequence, bananas are at a higher risk to diseases and pests, as well as the new uncertainties created by climate change. A good example is the recent appearance of the Panama Disease Race 4 disease in the banana producing regions of Latin America and to which Cavendish, the most widely grown banana variety in the world, is highly susceptible.
This difficulty in making genetic progress has also robbed consumers of a potentially wide array of different flavors, textures and quality characteristics that could be naturally bred into new banana varieties – potentially opening new, higher value markets and further increasing demand for bananas worldwide. Remedying this situation requires rethinking how we breed bananas and the development of a new paradigm for the sustainable genetic improvement of this crop.
With this goal in mind, Nature Source Improved Plants (NSIP) has joined forces with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), and a host of other institutions in a project called Breeding Better Bananas which will focus initially on Matooke and Mchare type bananas important in Africa. But, the new approaches to be developed and implemented in this project have implications for banana improvement worldwide. NSIP will contribute its expertise and advanced in genomics and predictive tools to help create a new paradigm for the genetic improvement of bananas.