Publications: ISAAA Briefs
No. 22 - 2001
Florence M. Wambugu
Director, ISAAA AfriCentre
2. Objectives of the Banana Biotechnology Project
3. Methods and Studies
5. The Pilot Micro-Credit/Revolving Fund Model
7. Future Plans - Phase II Studies
List of Acronyms
The project Biotechnology to Benefit Small-Scale Banana Producers in Kenya was developed in response to the rapid decline in banana production in Kenya over the last 20 years. This decline was due to widespread soil degradation and the infestation of the nation's banana orchards with pests and diseases, problems further aggravated by the common practice of propagating new banana plants using infected suckers. The situation was threatening food security, employment, and incomes in banana-producing areas.
Thus the broad goal of the project was to make clean planting materials of improved banana varieties available to small-scale farmers, with the ultimate objective of helping to alleviate poverty and hunger. Tissue culture technology was considered an appropriate option to provide sufficient quality and quantity of such materials.
The project was facilitated by ISAAA and hosted by KARI. Careful project preparation included the selection of appropriate partner institutions in both the private and public sectors. A sound strategy for technology transfer and application was devised, with feedback and monitoring at all stages of the project-from the laboratory, through farmers, to consumers. Extensive field trials were conducted on farms as well as research stations, and demonstration farmers were recruited to disseminate the technology by example. A multidisciplinary approach was taken towards all project activities, and research and development were seen as integrated rather than as separate activities.
Results from the field trials were very positive: tc plants showed significant improvements in yields and growth statistics compared to plants grown from conventional suckers. Important data concerning the suitability of particular cultivars in different parts of the country were also collected. In general, farmers were very enthusiastic about the potential of tissue culture technology for banana production. They were particularly motivated by the capacity of the crop to generate additional income, which helped to change their perception of banana from a mainly subsistence resource to a viable cash crop.
An independent ex-ante impact study predicted that tissue culture technology applied to banana production could result in a substantial increase in yields, especially on small-scale farms. This finding was in contrast to the widespread belief that smallholders cannot benefit from modern biotechnology applications.
The project also incorporated technology diffusion research, which identified several potential constraints to the adoption of tc banana by Kenyan farmers, including:
o Relatively high cost of the tc plantlets compared to conventional suckers
o The need for a wide choice of varieties
o Gender issues
o Higher requirement of tc banana for labour and inputs
o Limited availability of clean land
o Limited established marketing and distribution systems
Accordingly, a pilot micro-credit scheme was introduced in response to the affordability issue of the tissue culture plantlets. This enabled small-scale farmers to purchase sufficient planting material to realise the benefits of the technology. The scheme follows the Grameen Group Approach and has been highly effective. Formation of micro-credit groups has brought wider benefits to the communities involved, such as education on banana orchard management and cooperation in distributing and marketing the crop.
Due to its considerable success, the project will be continued into a second phase. This will seek to overcome adoption constraints and to establish a self-sustaining system of production, distribution, and utilisation of tissue culture banana plantlets, which will provide long-term benefits for farmers and further entrepreneurial opportunities for the private sector. More varieties will be offered and the project will be extended to new areas within Kenya and across the East Africa region.
Increasing banana production has the potential to improve the standard of living of many small-scale farmers, while making a staple food more affordable for the urban poor. The surplus created by tc banana farming is likely to lead to an increase in demand for other goods and services, exerting a positive effect on the whole economy and creating new business and employment opportunities. Furthermore, improved banana orchard management has important environmental benefits, particularly in regards to soil conservation. Knowledge gained during the project has also enhanced Kenya's national biotechnology capacity, paving the way for the more rapid dissemination of future biotechnology innovations. The unprecedented success of this project suggests its usefulness as a model for improving the performance of other commodities in different communities. Overall, the project irrefutably demonstrates that biotechnology is a powerful tool for battling poverty and hunger in the developing world.
List of Tables
List of Figures