Dr. Robooni Tumuhimbise, a banana breeder at Kawanda national agricultural research laboratory, explaining a point in the middle of a newly planted banana trial under evaluation at Kawanda BY YUSUF FATUMA CIENTISTSat Kawanda are set to release hybrid banana varieties- NABIOs which are believed to have better tastes, resistant to Black Sigatoka among other weevils, the head of the institute, Dr. Wilberforce Tushemereirwe. He was recently speaking to The Agribusiness Digest magazine team on the sidelines of the institute's annual review meeting in 2015. Tushemereirwe said the six varieties were still undergoing on station evaluation before they can be tested in the different agro-ecological zones. "We intend to release them in the next three years. We have evaluated them at the on-station fields and we have been •ressed by their performance. The next step would be evaluating them with the farmers in the different agro- ecological zones;' said Tushemereirwe. Dr. Robooni Tumuhimbise, a banana breeder at Kawanda explained that Black sigatoka, which affects the East African highland banana, also known as matooke, is a leaf spot disease caused by a fungus. It causes about 30-50% yield loss. "We have been impressed by the new varieties, they are resistant to black sigatoka and other diseases, but the most important aspect is the fact that they have a better taste compared to the PHIA varieties;' he explained as we moved in around the trial gardens Imported from Honduras, this 'PHIA' planting material is known locally as Kabana and several varieties are proving particularly popular . Kabana 3 (FHIA 17), for instance,is a multipurpose variety which canbe roasted, fried, or eaten fresh. The bananas are more difficult to peel and take a little longer to cook, but the yields are so good that farmers feelthe differences are a small price to pay. Kabana 4 (FHIA 23) is a particularly good dessert variety, which is not good for cooking but can be usedfor eating and making juice; one bunch can produce up to 20 litres. Robooni noted that all the latest varieties including M2 and M9 have been conventionally bred. Under conventional breeding, we get resistant materials and crossthem with susceptible material to get a desired product:' he explained. He said before new varieties are released, they go through three different stages of evaluation-at Kawanda and on farm trials with the farmers. "The genotypes we get from early evaluation trials are taken to preliminary field trials for further testing to enable us pick the best lines to be tested again with the farmers," said Robooni. 'We have so far released M9, it is high yielding, resistant to black sigatoka, weevils, nematodes, its food is very good, it has good colour. M2 on the other hand is high yielding, resistant to the prevalent pests and diseases, majorly weevils and nematodes;' said Robooni. He, however, explained that Nabios 1 to 6 which are as a result of the research collaboration between National Agricultural Research Organisation and Biodiversity International are far much better than Dr. Imelda Kashaija, NARO's Deputy Director, speaking during Kawanda's Annual Evaluation Workshop. looking on is Kawanda research director Dr. Wilberforce Tushemereirwe and other guests M2 and M9 varieties. 'We had intended to select four hybrids, but we ended up selecting six. They are very good, are outstanding, in terms of food colour, taste, and resistant to Black sigatoka and other crop stresses;' said Robooni. According to Robooni, the Nabios shall be released in three years time af, are currently being tested at Kawanda, Nakabango in Jinja, Hoima and Mbarara districts. "We selected farmers to multiply them to have a particular number of suckers. We intend to work with 20 farmers in different parts of the country for evaluation multiplication of the suckers,"he said. Adding that, "We use a six point scale, with one representing the worst line and six the best line. So going by farmer's recommendations, the best lines are released for adoption;" He said they have also developed additional bananas varieties with funding from Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and Bill and Merinda Gates Foundation. Robooni explained further that the plantations of the newly established hybrids, will be able to stay for more than 20 years. "They are resistant to diseases so they have enough leaves which can be sold out by farmers as they wait to harvest the mature bananas. STEPS ON HOW TO GROW MATOOKE PLANTING: Dig holes at least 60 cm (2ft) in diameter and 60 cm (2ft) deep. Half fill the top soil mixed with rotted manure before putting in to the planting hole. A cover crop like beans, ground nuts should be inter-planted. It is advisable to plant at the beginning or during the main rain season for proper establishment and subsequent production. SPACING: Spacing varies with type of bananas. Tall types of bogoya are widely spaced and short ones like Nakytengu are closely spaced. On average, spacing is 3m x 3m (10ft x 10ft); ranging from 2.4 m to 4.5 m between the holes giving a plant population of 7S0 - 900 per hectare. FERTILISER APPLICATION: For proper production, a good supply of nutrients is needed. The crop will benefit from farm yard manure if available or a dressing of SOOgmof single superphosphate, SOOgmmuriate of potash and SOOgmof calcium- ammonium-nitrate at planting. WEED CONTROL: Weed infestation can cause a drop in banana yield; therefore, weeds must be controlled either by mechanical weeding or by herbicides like gramoxone. For a mature established field mulching with coffee husks, elephant grass or other dry seedless grasses is a recommended practice against weeds. However experts note that on a slope especially where mulching is inadequate, put in bands stabilised with elephant grass to control soil erosion. PRUNING: Leave three to five main stem of varying ages per stool. This is to give continuous crop throughout the year. The fewer the number of stems the bigger the size of bunches. STAKING: Banana pseudostems are likely to break under the weight of heavy bunches. Thus, forked poles should often be used to keep the stems upright. HARVESTING: The fruit is cut down from the banana tree when mature. The colour of the fruits when ripe varies among varieties. For some varieties especially the cooking ones, the colour remains green but for the beer and desert varieties, the colour turns yellow. When bunches are harvested for sale, care should be taken to prevent the fruits from being bruised. Average yields of bananas are 1,000 - 1,200 bunches per annum under medium husbandry practices and 1,2S0 bunches under excellent husbandry practices. STORAGE: Matooke cannot be stored for long as they get ripe and rot after a short time. After harvesting, Robooni notes that they must be marketed quickly to avoid losses.

The vast majority of the bananas currently grown and consumed were not conventionally bred but are selections made over probably thousands of years from naturally occurring hybrids. Cultivated bananas are very nearly sterile and as a consequence are not propagated from seed but rather through vegetative propagation, primarily suckers as well as more recently micropropagated or tissue cultured bananas. These factors, very old selections, near sterility and vegetative propagation, mean that these bananas have not been genetically improved either for resistance or improved quality and are becoming increasing in affected by serious pests and diseases.

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