Assessing the impact of improved varieties of banana in East Africa

Anne Vézina Sunday, 02 December 2007

A new report from the International Food Policy Research Institute highlights the findings from a set of studies to assess the economic impact of improved banana cultivars and management practices.

Cover of the International Food Policy report
An Economic Assessment of Banana Genetic Improvement and Innovation in the Lake Victoria Region of Uganda and Tanzania assesses the impact on banana smallholder farmers of technology options developed by Uganda's National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) to improve the productivity of the East African highland banana, a major crop in Uganda and Tanzania.

The contributors survey an array of options either currently practiced or under development, including improved soil fertility management practices, conventional banana improvement, and transgenic banana cultivars. Their survey produces a number of findings with important implications for banana production.

For example, transgenic bananas currently being developed in Uganda could have pro-poor impact. Drawing on simulations of the economic benefits of these and other technology options, the contributors conclude that the current strategy endorsed by NARO, of combining conventional and transgenic approaches to mitigate the biotic pressures that cause major economic losses, is essential for sustaining banana production systems.

The authors also draw from a nine-year project launched in 1996 by the Kagera Community Development Programme in Tanzania. As part of the project, the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium multiplied pest- and disease-resistant varieties developed by the Fundación Hondureña de Investigación Agricola and introduced them to farmers in the Kagera region with the help of Belgian funds. The material came from the International Transit Centre in Belgium. The project distributed about 2.5 million suckers of the new varieties, which on-farm tests had established would produce bunches that weighed an average of 18.9 kg, compared with 9.7 kg for local varieties. A 2002 survey revealed that 29% of households had planted at least one new banana variety. In high-rainfall areas, where pests and diseases put farmers under more pressure, adoption was 100%, whereas in medium-rainfall areas only 6% of the farmers had grown one of the new varieties.

The more recent IFPRI study of 260 households extends these findings considerably. For example, even outside the specific area where the project was distributing the new varieties, about one in five farmers was growing one of the new varieties. This reflects the strength of farmer-based informal systems for exchanging new planting material. The fact that varieties spread from farmer to farmer, even when this was not a formal part of the project, suggests that this mode of dissemination should be deliberately incorporated into future projects.

The IFPRI report serves as a valuable baseline for researchers and others interested in measuring the effectiveness of crop improvement programs.

The report is available for download at http://www.ifpri.org/publication/economic-assessment-banana-genetic-improvement-and-innovation-lake-victoria-region-0