Tanzania is finalising plans for a banana research centre.
Belgium has already pledged $1.29 million towards a banana centre of excellence to be based at the Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology in Arusha.
The institute's vice chancellor, Prof Emmanuel Luoga, said the focus will be on helping smallholder farmers increase their production quotas of the more popular varieties in the region, including matooke and mchare, which are still susceptible to pests and disease.
Bananas are considered both an important low-cost food staple and an economic backbone of East Africa and the Great Lakes region and their outputvalued at $4.3 billion.
Tanzania and Uganda alone produce over 50 per cent of all bananas grown on the entire African continent.
Bananas are popular primarily due to their non-seasonal nature, and apart from playing a key role in ensuing food availability all-year round.
Commercially, the crop provides an annual household income of $1,500.
More than 20 varieties of bananas are grown in Tanzania, though not all are suitable for eating.
Cultivators are divided into three groups; plantain — cooking bananas, fruits — sweet bananas, and for making local beer or wine.
The banana plant trunk can be cut up for use as livestock feed, while the bark and its fibres can be used for fencing, making paper, crafting home decorations and other works of art.
Last November, the Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute confirmed 16 new drought- and disease-resistant banana hybrid varieties developed by researchers in the three predominantly banana-producing regions of Mbeya, Kilimanjaro and Kagera.
The new varieties are preferred by farmers because of their high yield and ability to thrive under a variety of weather conditions.
The institute is also already involved in banana farming research in Tanzania’s northern zone through a joint project with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture.
The $13.8 million project is funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Uganda is also a beneficiary with the project enabling Uganda’s National Agricultural Research Organisation to introduce high-yielding, disease-resistant hybrid varieties named Narita.