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Research approach

Severe vitamin A deficiency is one of the major public health problems in Eastern Africa causing increased susceptibility to infections, and permanent damage to both eyesight and development. The most vulnerable groups are children younger than five and women of reproductive age. 

Bioversity International looks into missing nutrients in a given population and the nutritional value of the staple foods that feature highly on the menu, to see if alternative varieties could be a better option. There are up to 1000 varieties of banana around the world, with different naturally-occurring levels of nutrients including Vitamin A, and they are a staple food in Eastern Africa, where people eat up to 11 bananas a day. One approach by Bioversity International is to look at how better use of banana diversity, using naturally-occurring vitamin-rich varieties, within food systems can improve nutrition.

Eating one To'o banana meets the daily recommended intake of vitamin A for women and children. They would need to eat 1kg of Cavendish bananas, the variety that dominates supermarket shelves, to consume the same level.


Vitamin-A rich banana diversity in Eastern Africa

Varieties identified that are high in Vitamin A pre-cursors perform well under various local growing conditions and are accepted by local communities for taste and use in traditional recipes. A selection of these varieties is now being officially released in Burundi and Eastern DRC, with more than 500 farmers having received planting material. In addition, a training programme on production, post-harvest handling and nutrition has so far reached over 5000 community members.

Orange-fleshed Fe'i bananas from the Pacific are rich in vitamin A precursors and an important source of good nutrition. The picture compares Karat Pwehu, one type of Fe'i banana, with white fleshed Utin Menihle, peeled and unpeeled.

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The late afternoon sunlight shining through a diseased banana leaf, Rabat, Morocco.

Banana genetic resources

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

Banana networks

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Genomics and bioinformatics

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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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Useful links on banana


This area of work is possible due to the critical support of:


Beatrice Ekesa

Associate Scientist, Nutrition


This research area contributes to the CGIAR Research Programs on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH) and Roots, Tubers and Bananas through understanding the contribution of a diverse diet to improve nutrition and health. A4NH helps realize the potential of agricultural development to gender-equitable health and nutritional benefits to the poor. This program is led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

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