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PNG banana helps the fight against vitamin A deficiency around the world

Weekender

By ELLEN TIAMU
A FOOD staple from PNG has been used in the fight to try to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of children in third world countries who are suffering vitamin A deficiencies.
The plantain was isolated and spliced with an East African Highland cooking variety to form what has been termed a, “super banana.”
The PNG variety only grows in small bunches but has a high beta carotene content, which gives it a golden orange colour on the inside.
Scientists created a hybrid of this special banana using the gene of one of our banana varieties (Asupina variety) and the regular ‘Cavendish’ banana, which are produced in large quantities around the world. In fact the Cavendish banana is the most widely grown banana cultivar in the world. The resulting bananas in the scientific project has resulted in a Cavendish-like banana with an unusual orange colour inside.
The study is conducted by scientists at Australia’s Queensland University of Technology, together with African researchers.
For years already, the research team has trialled growing the bananas in Australia, where the fruit exceeded expectations by producing double the level of provitamin A.
Deficiency in Vitamin A causes nearly one million child deaths in developing countries every year. It also results in preventable blindness as well as a higher risk of contracting diseases and infections among children.
The genetically modified banana, collected from PNG 25 years ago, has been growing (for reaearch) in Innisfail in far-north Queensland for 10 years already.
Samples of the first crop have already being sent to the United States for further tests. The fruit should be available to eat in Uganda in around six years, after it undergoes regulatory testing.
A Ugandan researcher who spoke to SBS in Australia said, banana is the number one food crop for Ugandans. However, the researcher at the Center for tropical Crops and Biocommodities also added that while one person eats about 2kgs of banana a day, they still lack the vital ingredient, vitamin A.
The new banana variety is specifically targeted for planting in Uganda where 30 percent of the children, and a similar figure for pregnant women, are reportedly vitamin A deficient. The vitamin enriched banana is eaten when ripe.
The “super banana” project began with a A$10m (K23m) funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in the bid to try to reduce global hunger.
Plaintains or cooking bananas, along with sweet potato, taro and yams are a staple in PNG and come in many varieties and colours. Depending on which province you are in or visit, there are different types of cooking bananas that are orange in colour inside. These plantains are a family favourite and in provinces where they are scarce, can cost a lot more than other local varieties.

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