Breeders in Uganda and Tanzania have developed drought-tolerant and disease-resistant banana hybrids that are should support the commercialization of East Africa’s banana sector. The general response to the new hybrids has been positive from more than 1,350 Ugandan and Tanzania smallholder banana growers. These have very often struggled to sustain their plantations beyond four or five years in the face of intense pressure from plant diseases like Xanthomonas wilt (BXW), fusarium wilt and black Sigatoka.
Some regional agricultural analysts predict that East Africa’s banana farmers will soon enjoy the best of both worlds: bananas developed from conventional breeding and emerging biotechnologies like genome editing. The new advances also mean it’s highly likely that the region will be able to control the devastating Xanthomonas wilt (BXW) disease that has stymied production.
Dr. Ivan Kabiita Arinaitwe of Uganda’s National Banana Research Program told the Alliance for Science that the high- yielding new hybrids were developed through conventional breeding by crossing an East African highland banana cultivar (Triploid 3x) and a male diploid (2x) parent of the wild species Musa acuminata, which contributes the source of resistance to pests and diseases.
For East Africa, giving farmers access to improved banana hybrids mean increased and sustained commercial banana productivity, hunger mitigation, better food security and increased interventions aimed at strengthening and widening banana value addition for greater income generating opportunities.