The two East African neighbors are said to be producing over half of all bananas grown on the continent.
“Such revelations show that there is an urgent need to prioritize the crop as a stable item on our dinner tables,” said Dr Cyprian Ebong, executive secretary of the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA) yesterday.
Briefing reporters on the sidelines of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA)’s annual planning meeting here, Dr Ebong emphasized the importance of combined expertise to improve the banana crop.
Tanzania currently boasts some 3.7 million banana farmers who already, like their counterparts in Uganda, depend on it as a staple food and major source of income.
But experts say the crop is currently achieving only 9 per cent of its potential yield due to pests and diseases, posing a serious threat to the future sustainability of banana production in the region.
Bananas are considered the world’s fourth most important food crop, and are of critical importance to the food security and income generation of more than 70 million Africans.
They are, however, said to be among the most difficult crops to successfully cultivate due to the sterile nature of the crop, low seed set, and low germination rates of the seeds.
IITA is coordinating a five-year, multi-partnership project titled ‘Improvement of Banana Production for Smallholder Farmers in the Great Lakes Region of Africa’.
The project aims to expand existing cooking banana production trends in Tanzania and Uganda by developing improved hybrid seeds which are resistant to diseases (black Sigatoka and Fusarium wilt) and pests (weevils and nematodes).
The acting vice-chancellor of the Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology (NM-AIST) which is hosting the IITA meeting, Prof Karoli Njau, said the institution intends to establish a proper center to delve into more research on the banana crop.
"The centre (will be) geared for improved management in banana production. We will deal with banana pests and diseases," Prof Njau said.