Drought-tolerant banana varieties

Nari, Normal

The National, Tuesday November 10th, 2015

 A drought mitigating strategy recommended for farmers is to plant the drought tolerant banana varieties. 

These include bananas that survived the 1997 drought, which were mainly from the Kalapua, Yawa and Cavendish groups. 

The other groups of banana did not do well during the drought.

Recommendations for these three varieties have been made based on observations done on collections after the 1997/98 drought.  

Observations on the performance of these varieties held at the PNG banana germplasm collection site – Laloki in the Central – were also incorporated. 

Varieties from the three banana groups are hardy and can withstand prolonged dry periods and bear good fruits. 

The Yawa and Cavendish are known dessert bananas while the Kalapua is mostly a cooking banana, but can be eaten when ripe.


Kalapua (dwarf, small and large varieties)

This group of banana has more than 10 varieties and belongs to the ABB genome. 

The varities are triploids and have large, thick pseudostems that store a lot of water to keep them alive in long dry periods. 

Their leaves are very waxy, meaning less water is lost through evapo-transpiration. 

These characteristics help Kalapua varieties to survive droughts.

There are two types of Kalapuas. 

The tall type that grows to an average height of five metres and the dwarf type that grows to about 2.5 metres. 

Methods of cooking include unripe fruits roasted on open fire, boiled, baked in earth oven (mumu) and fried in oil. 

Firm ripe Kalapua is known to be best when cooked in coconut cream.

Just last week, we visited Murukanam and Derin in Madang and families there told us that they are presently relying on Kalapua bananas. 

Murukana and Derin are two of the hardest hit communities in the lowlands by the 2015 El Nino. 

Food production has declined in these areas for the last six months as the El Nino drought continues but Kalapua is still standing and supplementing food for households. 



Yawa varieties also belong to the ABB genome.  

Unlike the Kalapuas that have single stands (few suckers), the Yawas have very thick stands and can become very weedy especially in wet areas. 

Their rate of multiplication is fast and they tend to spread quite quickly, choking out other plants growing nearby. 

They are tall plants with heights ranging from three to five meters that bear fruit after 18 to 19 months. 

They have large fruit bunches and matured fruit have soft flesh, which are sticky when peeled. 

The fruits are ripened and eaten as dessert bananas or can also be eaten when cooked. Yawa is commonly known in the Asian region as Pisang Awak. 

Yawa has been recommended as best in sago dishes.


Cavendish (dwarf, medium and tall varieties)

The Cavendish varieties are introduced dessert bananas that also survived the drought. 

Many people had cooked unripe fruits and ate them when food became scarce.

Cavendish varieties have a tendency to grow well in almost any type of soil, which makes them ideal varieties to grow during droughts. 

It is known that unripe Cavendish fruits, once ready, can be peeled and boiled briefly before being fried with salt to enhance taste. 

This method removes the bitter taste that is usually associated with cooked, unripe Cavendish. 

The ripe fruits, when still firm, can be coated with flour or breadcrumb and deep-fried. 

Fully ripe fruits can be mashed, mixed with flour and fried as pancakes. 

These various methods of preparing Cavendish diversify its uses and make it more than a dessert banana.

The naming of Kalapua and Yawa varieties is sometimes confusing. 

What is known as Yawa in the lowlands is mostly referred to as Kalapua banana in the highlands. 

Kalapuas are very robust plants, with few stems in a stand and have large fruit bunches. 

The matured fruits are dried and firm when peeled and are always cooked. 

Few varieties can be eaten as dessert bananas. Yawa plants however, are not as robust but have very dense stands. 

They also have large fruit bunches like Kalapuas but matured fruits are sticky when peeled. 

The fruits are most often ripened and eaten as dessert bananas.


Farmers are advised to plant these banana varieties around gardens, homes and land not normally used for gardens for security in cases of drought situations. 

These bananas should be planted anytime, even in normal circumstances. 

They will become important food when droughts occur. 

Planting materials should be easily accessible from old gardens, relatives and friends. – NARI