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Bananas in Africa: diversity, uses and prospects for improvement
Bananas, Musa species, are perennial giant herbs belonging to the family Musaceae (Zingiberales: Scitaminae) (Simmonds, 1966; Tomlinson, 1969). Most bananas are cultivated for their fleshy fruits, but some clones are planted for their edible conns or for fiber. Bananas are among the most important food crops of the tropical and subtropical world. Some 68 million tons of bananas are produced annually, of which only 7 million tons enter the world market (FAO, 1987). This demonstrates that the crop is far more important as a food crop for local consumption than it is as an export commodity. The banana's center of origin is located in South-East Asia within an area bordered on the west by India and on the east by Samoa, Fiji and other South Pacific islands (Simmonds, 1966, 1976). High variability occurs, especially in India (Howes, 1928; Venkataramani, 1946; Bhaktavatsalu and Sathiamoorthy, 1979), Sri Lanka (Howes, 1928; Chandraratna and Nanayakkara, 1951), Thailand (Silayoi and Chomchalow, 1987; Silayoi, 1989), Viet Nam (Vakili, pers. comm.), fndonesia (Meijer, 1961), the Philippines (Allen, 1965; Valmayor, 1976; Valmayoret aI., 1981; Pascua and Espino, 1987; Pascua, 1989) and Papua New Guinea (Simmonds, 1956, 1966; Argent, 1976; IBPGR, 1984). It is believed that bananas were introduced into Africa by immigrants of Indo-Malayan origin and by Arab traders. There is much speculation on the POIts of entry, but the areas of Zanzibar and Pemba (Tanzania) and Madagascar are the most likely candidates. From there, bananas were taken westward across the continent by African migrations (Simmonds, 1976). During the 16th and 17th centuries, slave traders took the banana to the New World. It is there, in Central and South America, that the export trade of dessert bananas flourishes today.