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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.

Thematic research areas

In vitro banana accessions conserved by Bioversity International at the International Transit Centre, Leuven, Belgium. Credit: Bioversity International/N.Capozio

Banana genebank

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Genomics and bioinformatics

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Orange-fleshed Fei banana, rich in vitamin A. Credit: Bioversity International/A.Vézina, courtesy of www.musarama.org

Bananas for nutrition

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Banana variety conserved at the Musa Germplasm Collection, Mbarara, Uganda. Credit: Bioversity International/N.Capozio

Banana networks

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Bioversity International's research approach

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.

Where we work

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.


Research highlights

Removing single diseased stems

For close to two decades, Xanthomonas wilt has devastated banana production across East Africa. Previous recommendations for control were often reported as labour intensive and tedious, with many smallholder farmers reluctant to adopt them. But that is changing thanks to an easier, cheaper option developed by Bioversity International and partners which is helping to restore banana productivity to smallholder farm families in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and across east and central Africa.

 

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Putting vitamin A-rich bananas to the taste test

Bioversity International and partners are investigating how vitamin A-rich bananas from South Asia and the Pacific can be integrated into Eastern African diets to tackle one of the biggest health problems in the region, vitamin A deficiency. A recent study highlights taste tests and agronomic trials’ positive contributions to farmers’ high receptiveness to species from the Philippines, Papua New Guinea and Ghana.

 

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Global programme seeks to contain serious threat to the world’s bananas

FAO and partners including Bioversity International launch campaign against new Fusarium wilt strain that jeopardizes livelihoods reliant on the world’s most traded fruit. 

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Related links

CGIAR Partnership

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.

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Credit: Crop Trust

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Banana traders awaiting customers at the local market in Tuleba, Tanzania. Credit: FAO/Simon Maina

Global programme seeks to contain serious threat to the world’s bananas

FAO and partners including Bioversity International launch campaign against new Fusarium wilt strain that jeopardizes livelihoods reliant on the...

Read more