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Current issues and future directions for Musa genetic improvement reesrach at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture : advancing banana and plantain R & D in Asia and the Pacific
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Plantains have long been a traditional staple food in many countries in West and Central Africa WCA). Similarly, the highland banana has been and still is a major food crop in Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA). However, the black sigatoka leaf spot disease epidemic, which reached ESA in the late 1970s and WCA in the early 1980s has reduced the yields to less than half what they were before the arrival and spread of this disease. In the late 1980s, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) launched a genetic improvement initiative to redress the detrimental effects of black sigatoka. This involved a recurrent interspecific backcrossing scheme coupled with genome and ploidy manipulations aiming at gradually improving the existing landraces. This process was enhanced by the use of biotechnology tools such as tissue culture and molecular markers to overcome the inherent difficulties associated with low fertility, complex genomic arrays in segregating progenies, and suboptimal expressivity of targeted traits. Considerable progress has been achieved, opening prospects for decentralization of breeding activities, yet many challenges lie ahead of the IITA Musa breeding programme.