Continental varsity to host centre for banana research

A Horn plantain variety called Ikpolo Noir found in DR Congo. PHOTOS | IITA

Sunday May 13, 2018

By Joe Lihundi

Tranquility News Reporter, Arusha

Nelson Mandela Institute of Science and Technology (NM-AIST) is establishing a Centre of Excellence for Banana Research, the NM-AIST Vice Chancellor, Professor Karoli Njau, has revealed.

Prof Njau said 5 per cent the crop contributes to the East African gross domestic product prompted the university to consider establishing the centre. “Without bananas, Uganda would be a net importer of food,” he stressed.

Uganda is estimated to produce 10 million tonnes of cooking bananas locally known as Matoke and one million tonnes of beer bananas, locally known as ‘Kayinja’ , valued at $534 million and $16.7 million, respectively.

Besides the Banana Research, the university also envisages establishing centres for Infectious Diseases and Science Engineering.

“They will all operate autonomously by collaborating with and sourcing funds from national and international organisations,” Prof Njau said.

He was speaking in an interview on the sidelines of the three-day meeting of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) researchers held at the university’s main campus in Arusha.

The IITA-coordinated forum attracted researchers from all six continents to review a five-year project dubbed Improvement of Banana for Smallholder Farmers in the Great Lakes Region of Africa.

Banana roadside market in rural Uganda

The project primarily focuses on building an efficient breeding platform for banana and improving the two most popular cooking bananas in the region.

Matoke and Mshale, also known as East Africa Highland Banana (EAHB), fortify resistance against pests and diseases, but also maintain the traits enjoyed by consumers.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation representative, Dr Jim Lorenzen, said any economic transformation started with agriculture creating jobs, income and supporting the education sector in preparing the future generation.

The project would go a long way in meeting growing needs and economic transformations of the Eastern and Central African countries, he said, adding: “Everybody deserves a chance to live a hopeful and productive life”.

Mr Cyprian Ebong, the executive secretary of the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (Asareca), said “from South East Asia, banana has found a home in the region, feeding over 70 million people”.

He said banana in the region was playing key role of food and feed, beverage for cottage and industrial application and as an environmental protection crop, controlling soils erosion and climate impacts of coffee.

“With Tanzania and Uganda consuming 50 per cent of all the bananas produced on the continent, the crop is also a tradable commodity in the international market,” he said.

Former Tanzanian Deputy Minister for Education, Science and Technology, Ms Stella Manyanya (Second Right) advises on issues relating to Banana Propagation project during her visit to NM-AIST. Listening to Ms Manyanya are the NM-AIST Acting Deputy Chancellor for Academics, Research and Innovation, Professor Karoli Njau (First Right), the NM-AIST Acting Deputy Vice Chancellor for Planning, Finance and Administration, Dr Musa Chacha (Third Right).

With export value of banana increasing by 3 per cent in 2015 in Tanzania where the crop covers 706,000 hectares, Mr Ebong said there was an ample opportunity for it to contribute to transboundary trade in the region.

Half of the total cropping area in Africa thought is under banana cultivation; barely two countries, namely Ivory Cost and Cameroon, lead in exporting the crop.

Prof Njau said the NM-AIST Centre for Banana research would provide extension services to growers to increase productivity of the crop through management of farms, pests, diseases, changes affecting it, value addition and value chain.

The Arusha-based university is one in a network of the sub-Saharan Africa’s Pan-African Institutions of Science and Technology tasked to train and develop scientists and engineers on the continent.

It operates through two major areas of academic and research and innovation and it currently boasts hosting a number of research centres since its inception seven years ago.

These include centres for Research on Agricultural Advancement; Teaching Excellence and Sustainability in Food and Nutritional Security; Water, Infrastructure and Sustainable Energy; Innovative Technology and Energy; Centre of Excellence in ICT in East Africa as well as Cyber Security and Commerce Computing.

Each centre strives to attract top graduate and scientists from all over the world to assist it in its mission of teaching, research, supervision and student coaching.

It also establishes links with societies and industries for its research to find their ways into application.

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