Africa Goes Bananas for Peppers

The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) has published a paper announcing the successful transfer of green pepper genes to bananas. Banana Xanthomonas Wilt (BXW) causes millions of dollars worth of damage to banana crops particularly in the Great Lakes region. Two proteins from the green pepper, have shown strong resistance to Xanthomonas wilt, a bacterial disease that is spread by insects picking up BXW when visiting the male flower parts of an infected plant.

Lead author, Dr. Leena Tripathi, called the breakthrough “a significant step in the fight against the deadly banana disease.” She added, “hopefully, this will boost the arsenal available to fight BXW and help save millions of farmers’ livelihoods in the Great Lakes region.”

BXW was first reported in 1968 in Ethiopia, where it remained confined until being observed in Uganda in 2001. Researchers from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture along with the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) of Uganda wish to start trials soon in Uganda with their newly-infused bananas.

Until now, no chemical or biological treatment or cure has meant farmers breaking off the infected male bud or uprooting infected plants and their suckers. BXW has spread to DRC, Kenya and Tanzania and de-budding takes up considerable time with inconsistent results.

Dr Leena Tripathi commented on the additional benefit of this crop science to the banana ecosystem, saying “furthermore, the mechanism – known as Hypersensitivity Response – also activates the defense of surrounding and even distant uninfected banana plants leading to a systemic acquired resistance.”

The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture is based in Ibidan, Nigeria. Founded in 1967 is a leading African research partner in finding solutions for hunger, malnutrition, and poverty. Visit their site at: www.iita.org