One of the workshops to be held during the ISHS-ProMusa symposium will discuss the problem banana streak viruses (BSV) pose to the distribution of genebank material. It will pick up on a discussion started by Australian virologist Andrew Geering at the 2007 ISHS-ProMusa symposium. Geering argued that the distribution of germplasm should be guided by the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC), which states that it is the responsibility of the importing country, not of the exporter (in this case the ITC), to impose phytosanitary measures. In 2008, he reprised his arguments on the old ProMusa website. He was joined by Pierre-Yves Teycheney, a virologist at the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development CIRAD who argued against relaxing the guidelines. Their arguments are reproduced below.
Bananas have a reputation for being difficult to breed; a reputation that seemed richly deserved when after more than 60 years of trying, breeders had yet to release an improved banana hybrid. No wonder you used to be able to count the number of banana breeding programmes on the fingers of one hand. Nowadays, however, you would not have enough of two hands. According to a survey done for the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas, at least 12 organizations have a banana breeding programme.
Bananas are unusual among major crops in that most of the types grown, either for export or local consumption, are farmer-selected varieties. Less well-known is the role played by islands in safeguarding cultivars that have all but disappeared elsewhere.
Last week, I participated in a discussion on what Fair Trade means for bananas. The meeting was organized by the worker-owned co-operative Equal Exchange and held at the Tufts School of Nutrition in downtown Boston, USA. The event started with a screening of Bananaland, Blood, Bullets and Poison. The movie set the scene and provided plenty of food for thought, even though it’s a bit far-fetched to attribute all the social problems and the violent history of Colombia to the banana industry alone. Nevertheless, it is clear that the banana has a troubled history, and in spite of efforts to address some issues, many remain.
Last December I attended a MusaNet workshop on best practices for Musa germplasm collection and data management held at CIRAD’s field collection on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. The traditional group photo hints at the diversity of both the experts looking after the world’s bananas and of the bananas themselves. The setting was perfect for discussing the pièce de résistance of the workshop: the Taxonomic Reference Collection (TRC).