Novel approaches to the improvement of banana production in Eastern Africa: the application of biotechnological methodologies — Phase II

Published on 22 June 2010

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Start Date: 1 January 2006 | End Date: 31 December 2010


In Uganda, banana remains the single most important staple in terms of consumption, crop acreage, and tonnage of production. Over the past decades, the crop has also gained the status of a cash crop, and in many rural settings it is the only source of income. Despite the crop’s importance, yields have progressively declined, particularly in the major growing areas of Central Uganda where the lifespan of a plantation has declined to 3-5 years compared to 50 years in Southern Uganda. The chief factors responsible for yield declines include the inter-linked problems of nematodes, weevils and poor soil fertility, as well as disease outbreaks (black Sigatoka, banana bacterial wilt) and a host of socio-economic factors.

The country has adopted both conventional and biotechnological approaches to address the productivity challenges, with the overall goals of enhancing sustainable productivity and competitiveness of banana systems. As an important contribution to Uganda’s efforts to achieve these goals, Bioversity International (ex-INIBAP) led a five-year project (Phase I) aiming to begin preparing the materials to deliver transgenic East African Highland Bananas (EAHB) with resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses.

Funded by the Ugandan Government, this project’s overall objective is to develop East African Highland banana cultivars with resistance to key pest and disease constraints (weevils, nematodes, black sigatoka and Fusarium wilt) using novel biotechnological approaches. The specific objectives of phase 2 are:

  • Genetic transformation systems for EAHB cultivars that are female-sterile and most valuable to farmers  optimized
  • Novel sources of resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses identified and evaluated
  • Partnerships and capacity for biotechnology research strengthened

 For 2009, significant progress towards the project outputs is summarised below:


Output : Genetic transformation systems for EAHB cultivars that are most valuable to farmers optimized-New focus on a few cultivars as opposed to developing a super media for the entire Lujugira-Mutika group (=Matooke)

Output 2: Genes from technology partners accessed and evaluated- Recombinant proteins Cry6A and CpCYS incorporated into weevil diet, cloned and transformed  in the plant expression vector

Output 3: Important genes for improvement of banana isolated cloned and evaluated- Activities for isolation and testing of R-genes against BXW and Foc initiated through two PhD studies

Output 4: Morphological and molecular tools and methods for population characterization and diagnostics developed and applied- 380 accessions were established at Mbarara collection; germplasm characterization studies initiated and disease indexing for the accession in progress

Output 5: Partnerships and capacity for biotechnology research strengthened- 2 MSc students completed studies submitted theses; 2 PhD students initiated their research in partnership with universities of Pretoria and Stellenbosch. Tissue culture lab extended; an irrigation system established at Mbarara Collection

Output 6:Project effectively coordinated and managed- Annual planning and review meetings held and technical and financial reports sent to donor; NARO-Bioversity relationship remains strong.


During 2010 the project has made further significant progress towards its overall objective of developing East African highland banana cultivars with enhanced pest and disease resistance. Novel biotechnological approaches have included use of genetic transformation systems; assessing, isolating and cloning target genes; developing and applying molecular tools and methods for population characterization and diagnostics and further strengthening partnerships and capacity for biotechnology research. The project has also completed the construction of an extension to the tissue culture laboratory at NARL, Kawanda. The extension has added two transfer rooms, two growth rooms and a store. It will reduce congestion and allow space for additional work. A 60 square meter bio-safety screenhouse with four compartments has also been constructed to allow preliminary challenging of the generated transgenic plants before selecting for field trials.


It is hoped this work will continue in a follow-up phase after Dec 31 2010



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4 Responses to “Novel approaches to the improvement of banana production in Eastern Africa: the application of biotechnological methodologies — Phase II”


    hullo, thanks for the good work you are doing. there is a question that has been puzzling me & i will be grateful if it is answered. the question is: what are the east african highland banana clones that are resistant/ susceptible to Black sigatoka disease?

    • Vincent Johnson says:

      all the EAHB cultivars are susceptible to black sigatoka disease especially if they are grown below 1400 masl. EAHBs do best between 1500-1800 masl and within that altitude range the disease does thrive. However with climate changes we are experiencing, the picture could change as highlands are also warm these days.

      on behalf of the PI, Eldad Karamura


    hullo, thanks for the good work. am very much interested in bananas and my question is: what are the genes turned on during systemic acquired resistance (SAR)in monocot crops banana inclusive?

    Thank you

  3. andrew kiggundu says:

    It is great to have such important project information available online. It would be nice that it is accurate. You have left out Andrew Kiggundu as a scientist on this project. Also National Agricultural Research Laboratories, Kawanda is a NARS one of the institutes of NARO. So it is not a ARI.

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