Tuesday, November 23, 2010

IITA's challenges for Banana and Plantain program

Banana and plantains, important food and income crops for millions of farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, are threatened by a growing list of diseases and pests sweeping across the region that IITA scientist are searching for their immediate and long term sustainable control solutions.
On the second day of IITA’s 2010 planning week, scientists working on the two crops in various aspects updated each other on their current activates and brainstormed towards a focused strategy to coordinate their efforts in a session led by Jim Lorenzen, Banana Breeder and Program lead.

On Banana Bunchy Top Virus (BBTV), one of the top priority disease, Lava Kumar, IITA virologist told the group the institute had good baseline data on the disease including how and where it was spreading. And although there were no known sources of resistance to the disease, he said, in Cameroon trials had began to identify varieties that are tolerant to the disease, still giving acceptable yields even when infected.

He said they had started a campaign in Cameroon where the disease was now present as farmers moved planting material from Gabon where it is entrenched.

Fen Beed, a plant pathologist, said a lot had been done on BXW, good diagnostics for the virus using DNA capture were in place, and there was an ongoing regional survey in seven countries in partnership with national research and regulatory officials: Rwanda, DRC, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and Zambia.

He said, however, that there was still a lot to do as it was still spreading through the region. For instance in Uganda there has been a resurgence of the disease despite the government having launched one of the most effective control programs.

"It's not clear whether it's because the people have stopped putting in place the appropriate measures or the disease is more complex than we thought," he said.

Irie Bi Vroh stressed the difficulty of breeding plantain which are sterile and unbreedable. He said in West Africa the research focused on boosting their fertility and enlarging the germplasm base with material from colleagues around the world.

Leena Tripathi, IITA Biotechnologist, updated the group on the progress in transforming the two crops to develop varieties resistant to the major diseases. She said there were transgenic lines resistant to BXW under confined field trials in Uganda and there were also plans for testing in other countries such as Kenya.

Danny Coyne, IITA nematologist, emphasized the complexity of controlling nematodes, a major threat to banana and plantain as there were different species involved. The institute is still focusing on an integrated control including ensuring clean planting material by boiling suckers in hot water and breeding for resistant varieties as a long- term solution. "Boiling in water is simple, practical, and fast. We need simple campaigns to create awareness among the farmers."

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