Cavendish banana faces extinction. Can scientists save this staple before it’s too late?

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Pests and diseases are threatening Cavendish bananas with extinction. Dutch university Wageningen and plant research company KeyGene are jointly joining international researchers battling to save the popular fruit.

Bananas are a vital crop in Central and East Africa. Over 50% of the region’s permanent cropping area is given over to banana cultivation, which currently represents around half of the total agricultural area dedicated to bananas across Africa.

Bananas provide up to one-fifth of total per capita calorie consumption in the region and, according to data from international research project Accelerated Breeding of Better Bananas (ABBB), bananas are a ‘major source of income’ for smallholder farmers in the area with the region’s yearly banana crop valued at $4.3 billion.

Pests and diseases, however, pose a serious threat to the future sustainability of banana production in East and Central Africa. The banana crop in the region achieves just 9% of its potential yield due to spoilage and waste caused by diseases such as Fusarium Wilt and Black Leaf Streak, alongside pests including nematode and weevils, ABBB estimates.

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Wageningen University & Research (WUR) and KeyGene are teaming up with the global research program to help combat the problem.

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The ABBB is coordinated by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). It aims to achieve a 50% higher resistance to at least three of the major pests and diseases, while at the same time developing a more efficient breeding platform for bananas.

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