First banana hybrids bred in Arusha go for field trials

Three years after starting its activities, the IITA banana breeding team based in Arusha-Tanzania has planted its first banana hybrids for field evaluation. While this is a major milestone for the program, it also underscores the complexity and slow pace of banana breeding.

Dr Brigitte Uwimana, planting the hybrid banana in the trial field in Arusha.
Dr Brigitte Uwimana, planting the hybrid banana in the trial field in Arusha.

The program started its activities in Arusha in early 2011 after many years of successful banana breeding in Nigeria (for plantain) and Uganda (for matooke or highland cooking bananas) in collaboration with the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO).

In Tanzania, the breeding is focusing on Mchare, an important group of cooking banana varieties in the Arusha-Kilimanjaro region and in other East African countries. This breeding program aims to develop Mchare banana varieties that are high yielding with resistance to Fusarium wilt, a soil-borne fungal disease that is attacking the crop in Tanzania. “This breeding program follows two main streams. One stream targets crosses to gather information to accelerate banana breeding. The other target crosses that aim at producing improved Mchare,” said Dr Brigitte Uwimana, the postdoc banana breeder based in Arusha.

“Banana breeding is a tedious undertaking, mainly because banana are sterile and don’t generally produce seeds (parthenocarpy). This makes the generation of new hybrids a challenge. These hybrids will be evaluated in the field and the best will be selected for further breeding Mchare banana,” Brigitte explained.

The successful breeding of the new hybrids involves the selection of fertile parents, seed extraction, seed germination in the laboratory, and nursery management.

Improving agriculture, changing lives: IITA’s 20 years of agriculture research in Tanzania

In 2014, IITA marked its 20th anniversary in Tanzania. This video highlights some of the activities researchers have been involved in and the successes achieved so far from some of the beneficiaries. These include research on tackling the major pests and diseases of important food crops in the country, adding value through processing and better postharvest handling and building the capacity of researchers in the country and region.

Video highlights

Tackling poverty and hunger in Tanzania through working with small-holder farmers: IITA has been working with small-holder farmers in Tanzania who are not only a majority of the population but are also a majority of the poor living in rural areas. Therefore, according to Dr Victor Manyong, IITA director for eastern Africa, improving their income and livelihoods can have a significant impact in efforts to reduce hunger and poverty and develop the country.

Wilting bananas: Banana is an important crop not only in Tanzania but also in the whole of the Great Lakes region where it’s grown by over 70 million people. However, their livelihoods and food security are currently threatened by a deadly bacterial disease, the Banana Xanthomonus Wilt (BXW) which is spreading through the region.  Former IITA Plant pathologist Dr Fen Beed explains ongoing efforts on tackling and controlling this disease.

Double scourge for cassava farmers:  Cassava, another important crop for small-holder farmers in Tanzania is currently under attack from two viral diseases: Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD) and Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD). IITA’s plant virologist Dr James Legg has been hot on the trail of the vector transmitting the diseases, trying to understand them, how they spread the diseases, and how to control them.

Improving farmers’ varieties: One way to increase the production of smallholder farmers is by giving them improved high-yielding varieties. Working together with their counterparts at the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives, IITA researchers have worked hard to develop improved varieties of important crops to smallholder farmers. This is one area in which IITA has had considerable success in the country notes Dr Fidelis Myaka, the Director for Research and Development.

The farmers are also involved in the improvement of their varieties through a process known as Participatory Variety Selection (PVS) to ensure the new crops are not only high yielding but that they also meet their preferences  in terms of taste, texture, mealiness and other traits as explained by Dr Edward Kanju, IITA’s cassava breeder.

The improved high-yielding varieties developed by IITA and their partners are motivating farmers to grow cassava as attested by James Mele, a farmer in the coast region of Tanzania who had nearly abandoned growing cassava altogether due  to diseases.

Reducing unsafe use of pesticides by vegetable farmers: Vegetables are high-value crops in urban areas. They are therefore attractive to surrounding farmers who often cultivate them intensively using a lot of pesticides and many times incorrectly. This poses a health risk to themselves and their consumers as well as to the environment. IITA’s Dr Danny Coyne, a soil health specialist, is working with vegetable farmers to show them safe and more sustainable ways to control pests and diseases in vegetables.

Adding value to farmers’ produce:   Supporting farmers to increase production is not enough to tackle food insecurity and poverty if it’s not accompanied by efforts to protect yields and ensure farmers have access to markets. IITA’s value chain specialist, Dr Adebayo Abass has been working with farmers to process their produce into high value products with longer shelf lives and which fetch more money in the market.

Capacity building:  IITA has also put in a lot of effort to train researchers – its own staff and those from partner institutions. These include conducting short courses, supporting Msc and PHD studies and through internship. Dr Fidelis Myaka, Director for Research and Development sees this as another important contribution by IITA to the country’s effort to develop its agriculture sector.

New science facility: To ensure IITA is well equipped to deal with current and emerging agricultural issues in Tanzania and the whole of Eastern Africa, the Institute has constructed a state-of-the art science facility with five well-equipped laboratories. The facility was inaugurated by the president of Tanzania, His Excellency, Dr Jakaka Mrisho Kikwete in May 2013.

African organizations unite to address the threat of a dangerous form of Fusarium wilt of banana

An  African  consortium of international researchers and growers, backed by policymakers in regional blocs of eastern and southern Africa has declared “war” against Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense tropical race 4 (Foc TR4), a highly pathogenic form of the banana Fusarium wilt, previously confined to Asia, but recently introduced to a farm in northern Mozambique.

FoC TR4 (also known as Panama disease) is caused by a fungal strain that can survive for decades in the soil, and once introduced to a country has never been previously eradicated. Production of Cavendish types of banana which dominate export markets, and some other local forms of banana, has been devastated across Asia, no thanks to Foc TR4.

Its introduction to Africa, probably by infected planting material by people, has already had a massive impact on the commercial plantation in Mozambique, and efforts are in place to contain the disease on this farm, to avert further spread and to prepare other African countries against similar incursions, says Dr Fen Beed, Plant Pathologist with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).

To manage the disease outbreak and to prepare African countries reliant on banana for food security and income generation, a stakeholder workshop of the African Consortium for Foc TR4 (AC4TR4) was held in Stellenbosch, South Africa, 23-24 April 2014, on the theme: Development of a Strategy to address the threat of Foc TR4 in Africa. Representatives from the following organization took part: Southern African Development Community (SADC), The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the East African Community (EAC), Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), National Plant Protection Organizations (NPPO), IITA, Bioversity International, Stellenbosch University, national research organizations, and commercial growers.

Recommendations from the workshop have now been harmonized. A major output has been “The Stellenbosch Declaration on addressing the threat of Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense tropical race 4 (Foc TR4) to banana production in Africa,” convened by SADC and COMESA, signed by member states and endorsing institutions.

This unique Declaration aims to combine forces to curtail the introduction and spread of Foc TR4 in Africa and in particular to achieve the following:

  • Fully develop and implement a continental strategy under the direction of an African Foc TR4 task force to contain the incursion of Foc TR4 in the Nampula   province of Mozambique and prevent similar incursions elsewhere.
  • Provide and enhance technical capacity on the continent, and to implement and monitor phytosanitary systems, including wider use of International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures (ISPMs) and other matters concerning plant health to address the threat of Foc TR4 in Africa.
  • Report and map electronically by means of a web portal any new outbreaks of Foc TR4 in African member states and communicate information on new outbreaks, successful containment, and prevention initiatives.
  • Establish recognition that Foc TR4 is a continental issue that requires coordination and collaboration between NPPOs, RECs, ICPs, research institutions, universities, governments, and other relevant stakeholders throughout Africa by means of regular meetings and consultations.
  • Develop and apply appropriate diagnostic services, provide training, raise awareness, monitor disease spread, and screen banana germplasm for Foc TR4 resistance for deployment by vulnerable banana growers.
  • Call upon African and international organizations to recognize and support the activities of AC4TR4 by investing in research, awareness programs, human capacity, and infrastructure development on the continent.
  • Develop a regional Pest Risk Analysis document and a set of phytosanitary measures to be enforced by member states to prevent the introduction and spread of Foc TR4 and other quarantine pests of banana.
  • Encourage governments in Africa to formulate the necessary legislation and to implement the required activities to protect the crops of vulnerable farm owners against destructive exotic pests.Dr Fen Beed of IITA and Dennis Ochola of Bioversity at the Foc TR4 afflicted farm in northern Mozambique

Giant strides in IITA plantain breeding for West Africa

 

Amah during her contract review seminar
Amah during her contract review seminar

IITA has made significant progress in its plantain research in West Africa with the generation of seedlings from crosses with in vitro induced tetraploids from diploids―a first for the Institute.

The IITA Regional Banana Breeding Manager, Delphine Amah, who supervised execution of the crosses in IITA-Ibadan, said the crosses were vital for plantain improvement in West Africa in the years ahead.

Delivering her contract review seminar titled: Support to Banana and Plantain Breeding―Updates on West Africa, Amah said the Banana Unit had recorded giant strides in the recent years.

For instance, as part of a revised pre-breeding strategy to produce improved parents while shortening the breeding cycle for plantain, the unit was now producing tetraploids which have four sets of chromosomes from diploids (which have two) using optimized in vitro doubling techniques.

In addition, tissue culture techniques have been employed to generate seedlings from crosses through embryo culture and mass propagation of plants for clonal evaluation.

The unit is also promoting the use of macropropagation and field propagation techniques for the production of clean planting material and good agronomy practices.

So far, Amah and her team have produced and distributed thousands of Agbagba plantain plantlets to the IITA farm unit and Youth Agripreneur project for propagation and distribution.

Furthermore, they have established pollination blocks with female fertile plantain landraces and Black Sigatoka resistant tetraploid plantain hybrids for accelerated breeding.

The team has established recently imported Musa acuminata ssp. banksii accessions for evaluation and use as parents in crosses to breed for plantains with high provitamin A content.

They have also established a propagation scheme for the production of plantlets for pollination blocks and planned trials to enable registration of new IITA hybrids.

All these activities are aimed at rejuvenating plantain breeding in IITA for efficient delivery of improved varieties to farmers, she said.