Millions of people around the world depend on banana as a source of food and income. However, despite increasing global banana production, yields of banana – both dessert and cooking types – are far below their potential. Production is affected by: a range of pests and diseases such as Fusarium wilt, bacterial wilts, nematodes, weevils, black leaf streak and bunchy top; declining soil fertility; abiotic stress such as drought and extreme weather events brought about by climate change.
Some 500 cultivars of banana are estimated to exist. However, over 40% of all cultivars grown worldwide belong to only one genetically narrow group – the Cavendish subgroup. The tendency to replace local diversity with a single high-yielding cultivar as a monocrop is increasing every year, even in smallholder fields, sometimes resulting in complete loss of local diversity. The risks associated with relying on one or a few genetically similar cultivars of a crop are well known, as the Irish Potato Famine demonstrated in the 19th Century.
There is an urgent need to protect and further explore the diversity of banana (Musa), both wild and cultivated, to increase diversity in farmers’ fields, for more resilient smallholder banana production systems.
Bioversity International researches the diversity of banana and its wild relatives, building on smallholder farmers knowledge to use this resource, to make production systems more productive and resilient to shocks. Our scientists are working to identify varieties that are resistant to major pests and diseases, tolerant to drought, and suited to the local socio-economic context where they are grown. Bioversity International’s agroecological intensification approach helps smallholder farmers to better manage pests and diseases, gain access to clean planting material, conserve genetic diversity locally, or take advantage of emerging marketing opportunities.
For over 30 years, Bioversity International has played a leading role in ensuring the long-term conservation of the global diversity of banana, to provide options for present and future generations. We have specialist scientific expertise in developing protocols and innovative approaches for the medium- and long-term conservation of banana, and through our research contribute to a better understanding of the crop’s selection, adaptation and diversification processes.
Together with our international, regional and local partners, we work throughout the tropical belt in which bananas thrive, including the centres of their genetic diversity: South and Southeast Asia, Pacific, East and South Africa, West and Central Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.
With more than 1,500 accessions of edible and wild species of banana, the Bioversity International Musa Germplasm Transit Centre (ITC) is the world’s largest collection of banana germplasm. It is hosted at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium.
Banana is the fourth most important crop in least developed countries and a staple food for several hundred million poor people, and as such provides an important source of nutrients. Bioversity International looks into the variability of vitamin A in existing (naturally occurring) banana varieties. Identification and promotion of vitamin A-rich cultivars has the potential to have significant long-term beneficial impact on the incidence of vitamin A deficiencies in banana-dependent populations.
Bioversity International coordinates global and regional networks for banana research and knowledge sharing, such as ProMusa, MusaNet, BAPNET, BARNESA, MUSALAC and Innovate Plantain. It also manages scientific databases on bananas.
Bioversity International’s research on banana genetic resources and management systems contributes to the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas and the CGIAR Research Program for Managing and Sustaining Crop Collections.