Gates Foundation backs sweet potato & banana farms in Ethiopia, Tanzania & Uganda
Development group Farm Concern International (FCI), in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has launched a new four-year project that will help to establish banana and sweet potato production in parts of Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania in order to improve food security in Africa.
The initiative aims to develop the four value chains of the crops, and it is from these that it has taken its name: Seed, Farmer, Market and Consumer (SeFaMaCo).
“We envisage a partnership which will translate into engaging hundreds of thousands of farmers as respectable players in [the] sweet potato and banana value chains across the three countries,” said David Tuchiu, FCI’s Africa director, at the initiative’s launch.
Sweet potatoes will be grown in southern and western Ethiopia, eastern and northern Uganda, and north-west Tanzania, including Zanzibar. New banana plantations are to be established in central and western Uganda and north-west Tanzania. Apart from their farming suitability, the two crops were chosen for being high in vitamin A and potassium, among other nutrients.
“The world has already developed better fertiliser and crops that are more productive, nutritious, and drought- and disease-resistant; with access to these and other existing technologies, African farmers could theoretically double their yields,” said Bill and Melinda Gates in their annual letter.
“With greater productivity, farmers will also grow a greater variety of food, and they’ll be able to sell their surpluses to supplement their family’s diet with vegetables, eggs, milk, and meat. With the right investments, we can deliver innovation and information to enough farmers in Africa to increase productivity by 50 per cent for the continent overall.”
New hybrid banana varieties
The Gates Foundation is also backing a five-year, US$13.8 million scheme run by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) to develop and supply disease-resistant, higher-yielding hybrid bananas in both Uganda and Tanzania. At present banana yields in these countries achieve only 9% of their potential owing to pests and diseases. And this when more than 50% of the land under cultivation is given over to the crop.
At present the two nations produce over half of all the continent’s bananas, a quantity amounting to roughly US$4.3 billion. There is exciting economic potential in yields being improved through hybrid varieties.
“One of the most effective ways to increase production of any crop is to plant high-yielding varieties,” says Rony Swennen, professor at Belgium’s KU Leuven, head of banana breeding at IITA, and project leader. “This new project will expand the on-going breeding efforts in Uganda and Tanzania by developing research capacity and bringing expertise from other countries. Hence farmers will get faster access to high-yielding, high-resistance hybrids that are at the same time satisfactory to the consumer.”
Twenty-six high-yielding, disease-resistant hybrid banana varieties have already been developed by IITA in collaboration with Uganda’s National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO).