More nutritious bananas resist disease
Disease-resistant, high-yielding banana hybrids are bringing food security to small farmers and boosting their incomes. With IDRC support in the 1980s and 1990s, the Honduran Foundation for Agricultural Research (FHIA) developed hybrids that resist Black Sigatoka and Fusarium Wilt — diseases that have devastated banana crops in several parts of the world.
“IDRC believed in FHIA’s work and gave the necessary funds for the research,” recalls Juan Fernando Aguilar, the Foundation’s Banana and Plantain Program Leader, in La Lima, Honduras.
The first breakthrough was the creation of the FHIA-1 hybrid — a.k.a. “Goldfinger.” Although its taste fell short of the Cavendish banana that is commercially available in supermarkets around the world, Goldfinger “showed the world that it’s possible to have a hybrid with high yields and high resistance to disease,” says Aguilar. And it “gave us the line that FHIA’s other hybrids came from.”
Goldfinger’s “brother”, the FHIA-18 — also developed with IDRC support — proved to be tastier. Farmers adopted it in Brazil, where Black Sigatoka had broken out, and Cuba, where farmers couldn’t afford fungicides to protect their bananas against the disease.
FHIA-1 also yielded important new knowledge. For instance, Goldfinger’s taste improved when grown at high altitudes in Australia, showing that hybrids’ qualities are affected by changes in the environment.
The work continues. Recently, in trials under differing local conditions in southern Nigeria’s banana belt, two hybrids (FHIA-17 and FHIA-23) “were among the most preferred varieties,” reports Abdou Tenkouano of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture. Their wide-scale introduction promises a “significant contribution to food security” in banana-growing regions, says Tenkouano. In addition to resisting disease themselves, the hybrids — when intercropped with traditional varieties — stop diseases from spreading. These hybrids are also being made into flour that can be reconstituted as porridge to supplement children’s diets.
Back in Honduras, FHIA is working to significantly increase the Vitamin A content of hybrid bananas and plantains.
By inserting resistant varieties (like FHIA-17 and FHIA-23) between traditional, susceptible plants, we ‘trap’ the disease agent and prevent it from spreading. This has a direct impact on food security by restoring the productivity of the traditional varieties.