The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Nigeria has announced a $13.8 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop and distribute higher-yielding disease-resistant hybrid banana varieties in Tanzania and Uganda.
The grant will support a project that aims to significantly ramp up existing banana breeding efforts in the two countries, where bananas are both a food staple and an essential economic product. But due to pests and diseases, banana production in the two countries only achieves 9 percent of its potential. Through the new initiative, IITA anticipates a 30 percent higher yield from hybrid varieties and a 50 percent higher resistance to pests and diseases compared to current varieties grown by farmers under the same conditions.
To that end, the project, which builds on a successful collaboration between IITA and Uganda's National Agricultural Research Organization, will work to support the on-farm testing of hybrid varieties in Uganda and Tanzania, improve the technical capacity of banana breeding programs in the region, strengthen partnerships with local farmers, and develop local research capacity by supporting eight Ph.D. and five MSc projects.
"One of the most effective ways to increase production of any crop is to plant high-yielding varieties," said Dr. Rony Swennen, professor at the University of Leuven and head of banana breeding at IITA. "This new project will expand the ongoing breeding efforts in Uganda and Tanzania by developing research capacity and bringing expertise from other countries. Hence, farmers will get faster access to high-yielding, high-resistance hybrids that are at the same time satisfactory to the consumer."