While bananas are an important staple food in East and Central Africa, they are under threat of pests 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, National Coordinator of banana research from Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute-Maruku centre (TARI-Maruku) in the Kagera region, Dr Mpoki Shimwela, said that in Tanzania, about 30 per cent of Tanzania's population derive their carbohydrates from green bananas.
According to Dr Shimwela in Tanzania, most of the bananas (over 70 per cent) are grown in the 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.
Tanzania Agriculture Research Institutes (TART) 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.
Dr Shimwela: "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.”
"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 by these new improved matooke varieties.