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KCDP's banana project aims to introduce, multiply and distribute, superior banana varieties, that are resistant to pests, diseases, low fertility and drought.

Aristide and DicksonThe importance of bananas in Kagera

For centuries, banana has been the staple food for the inhabitants of Kagera region. East African highland bananas are specific in the Great Lake zone: Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and north west of Tanzania. They are not only consumed on a daily basis for cooking but they are also important for brewing. Moreover, banana is very important within the social and environmental context of this region.
            However, East African Highland bananas have been threatened during the last decades. Declining soil fertility and pressure due to pests (weevils and nematodes) and diseases (panama and sigatoka) continuously reduce yields, with a deficit in intake of calories during part of the year.
            The "Kagera Community Development Programme" attempts, with support of the DGDC (Directorate General for Development Cooperation - Belgium), in collaboration with the Tanzanian Prime Minister's Office (PMO) and the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), to stop this trend by providing the farmers with more resistant varieties. Since 2000 the Belgian Technical Cooperation (BTC) implements the project with the PMO.

The East African Highland Bananas

Banana is the staple food and a source of incomes for millions of inhabitants in the tropics. Tanzania produces 2,6 MT of banana per year, covering an area of 350,000 ha and is the second banana producer in Africa after Uganda and seventh in the world. Almost half of it is produced in Kagera with (2 Mio inhabitants). Banana production is mostly for home consumption and selling on local markets. Majority of the 70 different varieties found in the highlands of Eastern Africa grow only in this part of the world and the most important ones are "matoke" (cooking) that represent 85 % of the total banana production in Kagera. These bananas are steamed, mashed and eventually mixed with beans, meat or fish. Ripe fruits of the recently imported varieties are also used for preparing juice and banana beer. According to official statistics, banana beer represents 5 % of the total production in the region and is an important source of incomes.
            Sweet banana represent also 5 % of the production. These are exotic varieties as Gros Michel, Cavendish, Pisang Awak. The remaining 5 % are plantain. This type is not very common but is considered as an important source of income.

The declining banana production in Kagera

Banana plantations were flourishing in Kagera until the beginning of the 20th century, due to intensive care by farmers. Since then, a combination of different parameters, such as pests and diseases and declining soil fertility, has substantially reduced the yields. Since the seventies, banana production has declined by 60 %. Exotic varieties expected to be more resistant have been then imported in the sixties from other regions of Tanzania and from other neighbouring countries. Unfortunately, they revealed to be susceptible to pests and diseases, reducing the production.
            The situation becomes even more dramatic with the increasing pressure of the population, the small size of the plots and the effects of HIV on the social environment and the availability of manpower. Young farmers are migrating to less populated regions, others move to other crops such as cassava and maize or quit the farm to find work in town or as wage earners on other farms.
            Food security and the guarantee of sustainable incomes are no longer ensured; the farmer does not have the resources to buy pesticides, fungicides and chemical fertilizer for increasing the yields. The only alternative is to introduce new banana varieties that are more resistant to pests and diseases and to advise the farmer to improve the management of the plot, by adding compost and manure when available.

The banana project

In 1997, the Kagera Community Development Programme (KCDP - has launched in collaboration with the Tanzanian authorities and the previous BADC (Belgian Administration for Development and Cooperation) a five years project named "Propagation and diffusion of Superior Banana Plants" with a budget of 1,66 Million EURO. Since February 2000, the BTC (Belgian Technical Cooperation) has replaced the BADC as supervising institution for the implementation of the project.
            In order to boost the production, new tested and more resistant varieties are introduced and distributed among the farmers of Kagera. One to two million of these new varieties will be added to the local ones, whose number is estimated at 150 millions in the region.
            Acceptance of the new varieties will depend mainly on 4 factors: the palatability parameters, high yields, tolerance to pests and diseases and availability of plants.

In-vitro banana plantsNew varieties

More than 20 varieties have been introduced in the region in collaboration with the Laboratory of Tropical Crop Improvement (K.U.Leuven - Belgium - ), the quarantine services in Tanzania and the Agricultural Research Station (ARI-Maruku). They are hybrids and primitive cultivars from Africa, Asia and Central America.

Importation of new plants is operating through the production of "in-vitro" plants in order to avoid the transfer of pests and diseases and to introduce rapidly a high quantity of plants.

In the period from 1997 up to now, 71,000 "in-vitro" plants were imported to Tanzania. After quarantine inspection, the plants are acclimatised in a central pot nursery, In-vitro banana plants and transplanted into field nurseries.

Plants are then multiplied in different fields situated in the five districts of the region. Every field includes also a demonstration plot with the most interesting varieties. At the same time, farmers can obtain suckers and evaluate the performance of the new varieties in the demonstration plot.

Tunnels for In Vitro plants In collaboration with Farm Extension Centres (FEC), NGOs, churches missions, farmer's groups and private persons, 54 multiplication and demonstration plots have been installed throughout the region "Multiplication and Demonstration plots", containing about 88,000 stools in total.

In order to evaluate the performance of the varieties, testing sites are also prepared with 111 farmers spread over 13 villages in the different agro-ecological zones. Hardening in-vitro plants Village Extension Officers (VEO) give advise, report on problems and make a strict follow-up of the data concerning the growth and the yields.

Farmers have also the opportunity to taste and evaluate the varieties during field days. Particular attention is given to appropriate management techniques and pamphlets and leaflets give information on the crop, the different pests and diseases encountered in the region and the characteristics of the new varieties.

Land demarcation A calendar and radio programmes inform the farmers about the project activities. This strong and reliable network is very important to reach and advise the farmers in an efficient way.

Distribution of planting material

However important the multiplication and demonstration fields are, it is the intensive and efficient diffusion of planting material that will determine the success of the project. Direct diffusion of suckers started in 1998. During the planting season, extension officers and staff members of the project go to markets with extension tools, banana bunches and vegetative material. Multiplication field So, they inform the farmers at the grass-root level, collect their request for new suckers and refer to the multiplication field supervisors for diffusion. For the sustainability of the project, a small contribution per plant is paid by the farmer; however, this approach is not so evident because farmers are used to exchange their suckers for free; special offers are made in order to reach poor households.
            Up to December 2001, about 272,000 suckers have been directly distributed to the farmers, the most distributed variety being Yangambi Km5. Varieties like SH3436-9 (locally named shillingi), FHIA-17 and FHIA-23 are very popular.
            After this first step, the diffusion continues: the farmer produces a few suckers per year and can either transplant them in his own field and/or offer them to his neighbour or to a family member. This indirect diffusion is a key point for the success of this project and at the end will have a higher impact than the direct diffusion implemented by the project. Survey has shown that farmers are producing at least 2 to 3 suckers a year, depending on the variety; for instance, Yangambi Km5 gives 7 to 10 suckers a year while Pelipita is hardly producing 3. Up to December 2001, about 533,000 suckers have been diffused indirectly which brings the total of plants diffused to about 805,000 since the beginning of the project in 1997.

Students with suckers New hope

The project impact is followed through the data collected by farmers when harvesting their local and new varieties as well. Results clearly show that the average yield of new varieties is much higher than the local ones. Actual data indicate an increase by 39 % and results are promising. Most of the varieties meet the expectations and thanks to the dedicated team and its network, diffusion is proceeding smoothly. Farmers are eager to test and taste the new banana varieties and even give them local names, as a sign of adoption.
            If the farmers give more attention and consideration to the soil fertility and good management practices, then they will be able to boost their production. Utilization of a healthy soil, together with good soil fertility management, the utilization of pathogen-free "in-vitro" plants and resistant hybrids are key elements that will contribute to alleviate the poverty, ensure food security and the farmer's incomes.

Belgium and banana research Mama showing her Km5 field

Belgium has been supporting banana research since a very long time. In the present Democratic Republic of Congo, many researchers have been working until the end of the sixties at the Yangambi research station. There, they found the primitive cultivar or landrace Yangambi Km5, one of the most popular variety multiplied and diffused by KCDP.

Based on this experience and background, the Belgian cooperation is strongly supporting the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). IITA is conducting research on staple food crops in Sub-Saharan regions and among them, plantain and cooking bananas.

The International Network for the Improvement of Banana and Plantain (INIBAP) is coordinating the development of Musa cultivars (cultivated varieties) that would resist pests and diseases. The INIBAP Transit Centre (ITC) is based at the University of K.U.Leuven in the Laboratory of Tropical Crop Improvement. There, you can find the world's largest repository for Musa germplasm conserved "in-vitro". A farmer with bunches KCDP has access to the new varieties through ITC and this Centre certifies that the plant material is free of diseases, through different procedures of testing.

Taste and colours!

The acceptance of new varieties by farmers in their household depends on numerous factors. One variety which is resistant to pests and diseases might be interesting but don't be discouraged if, in the first place, the farmer does not like the taste and the texture.

It might take you some time for convincing him. Other aspects, such as the size of the bunch, the form of the fingers, the profile and the colour of the pseudostem, the cycle between the sucker stage and the harvesting time are equally important factors. Of course, farmers, who are not able to ensure their food security, will take the new varieties even if the taste is somehow different from the local "matoke".