Hill Bananas owe their name, and distinct flavour, to the Palani Hills of Tamil Nadu in the southernmost part of the Indian peninsula. Their reputation is such that in late 2008 two Pome cultivars, ‘Virupakshi’ and ‘Sirumalai’, each received a Geographic Indication designation in recognition of the unique characteristics conferred by the interaction between the cultivars and the environment. Over the past decades, however, Hill Bananas have been losing ground to bunchy top, a devastating viral disease. Farmers depending on the crop for their livelihoods have taken steps to manage the disease with the help of scientists and formed the Tamil Nadu Hill Banana Growers’ Federation.
Enset (Ensete ventricosum) is a member of the same botanical family as the banana, but unlike its cousin it’s not grown for its fruit. The main edible parts of the enset plant are the starchy rhizome and pseudostem. Even though the 'false banana' is native to the highlands of eastern and southern Africa, the domesticated types are virtually unknown outside Ethiopia, where it is a staple for nearly 15 million people in the southwestern part of the country. Earlier this year, a team of British and Ethiopian scientists published a draft genome sequence for enset by using the reference sequence for Musa acuminata as a template onto which they aligned their fragments of DNA, an approach similar to the one used to produce a draft genome sequence for Musa balbisiana. For more information, browse the Musalit records on Ensete ventricosum.
When the founders of EARTH University bought the land on which to build a campus, the property included a commercial banana farm. At the time – the late 1980s – the reputation of banana plantations regarding worker conditions and environmental stewardship was at a low point. The university was advised to get rid of the farm, but decided to keep it to show that it was possible to produce a more ecologically friendly banana in Costa Rica’s humid Caribbean lowlands and still be economically viable. Over the next 25 years, faculty, staff and students have experimented with various approaches to reduce chemical use and improve soil fertility that were implemented whenever possible. In 2007, the farm was only breaking even when the US grocery store Whole Foods Market started buying its bananas, paying above market price for the certified fruit. The profits from the sales of EARTH bananas help support the scholarship fund and university operations. The university is also impacting the banana industry around the world as alumni take what they learned about sustainable agriculture and business management back to their home countries. Further reading: Article on EARTH University's sustainable banana farming
Sophie Spillemaeckers and Ludovic Schweitzer, the environmentally conscious founders of Concrete Dreams, spent a month in Rwanda and the South Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) shooting videos on marketing, nutritional and crop management issues thanks to a grant from the Flemish Interuniversity Council to KU Leuven. The videos are part of a multilingual series of training videos for Africa produced for CIALCA, a partnership of three CGIAR centres trying to improve the lives of the region’s smallholder farmers. The videos are available for download from Concrete Dream's Africa training page, along with an earlier series of CIALCA videos remastered by Concrete Dreams. They are also accessible for viewing on the CIALCA YouTube channel. (Photos by Concrete Dreams)
The area encompassing Sulawesi, the Maluku Islands and the Lesser Sunda Islands forms a triangle strategically located at the intersection of the geographic distribution of Musa acuminata subspecies whose genetic signature has been found in many cultivated bananas. Its unresolved role in the domestication of bananas and the fact that it has been little explored made it a top priority destination for exploration and collecting for the MusaNet network coordinated by Bioversity International. The plan to pay a visit to the triangle became reality when Bioversity funded two missions as part of the CGIAR Research Program onRoots, Tubers and Bananas. The core collecting team was made up of scientists from the Indonesian Tropical Fruit Research Institute (ITFRI) - banana taxonomist and breeder Edison Hs and plant pathologist Riska Jumjunidang – and Jeff Daniells, banana taxonomist and principal horticulturist at the Queensland’s Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry in Australia. ITFRI banana taxonomist Fitriana Nasution accompanied the group during the first mission in October 2012, while Agus Sutanto, the curator of the ITFRI collection in Solok on the island of Sumatra, joined the second one in February-March 2013. Staff from the local offices of the Assessment Institute for Agricultural Technology (AIAT) also joined the group as it travelled through the region.