Look after our banana resources

The National,Tuesday June 14th, 2016

PNG has a rich diversity of banana, both as edible and wild species. It is important that our rural farmers, who are the owners of these valuable resources, are encouraged to properly conserve, manage and sustainably utilize this diversity for sustainable food and nutritional status at household level. Once their food and nutritional status are secured, their livelihoods will be enhanced and elevated and surplus production can provide income earning opportunities.
PNG’s diversity of edible banana species make it home to ten wild bananas of which one species, the Musa ingens, has its ‘Centre of Origin’ in the highlands. It is the largest herb in the world and is only found in PNG.
Bananas belongs to the Musaceae Family and PNG has two Musaceae genera – the Ensete and the Musa.
Genus Ensete is wild and has one species – Ensete glaucum. Genus Musa has three sections – Eumusa, Australimusa and Ingentimusa. Section Eumusa is where the edible bananas are evolved from and it has three species in PNG – Musa acuminate, M. balbisiana and M. schizocarpa.
The Australimusa section contributes the edible Fei’i group of bananas that have bunches growing erect or sideways (eg. cultivar Sar, found in Manus and Madang). Five wild species are classified under this section (Musa maclayi, M. boman, M. peekelii, M. bukensis, and M. lolodensis) and one introduced species of Musa textalis or commonly known as Abacca.
Genus Musa has ten species and they are found throughout the county mostly in wild rainforest habitats. Some of these rich habitats are at high risk of being disturbed due to lumbering activities, large clearing for agricultural developments and construction of roads and bridges.
PNG’s edible cooking bananas are natural crosses mostly between Musa accuminata x Musa balbisiana. There are some cultivars that evolved from natural crosses between M. accuminata x M. schizocarpa and examples of such cultivars are Vunamami, Ato and Kokor.
Most of the cooking bananas of PNG are categorized into genomic groups of Diploid AA, Triploid ABB and AAB and few Tetraploids AAAA or ABBT. There are very few edible diploid AS such as cultivar Ato from Madang and cultivar Vunamami from East New Britain. There are also very few edible triploids AAT such as cultivar Sar found in the Erima area of Madang and in the mainland of Manus Island. The only two ABBT tetraploid cultivars that were collected during collecting expeditions were Yawa 2 from Rabaul and Giant Kalapua from Madang.
Some common diploid AA cultivars include Babi (Vudu Papua), Kurisa, Kekiau, Maleb, Manameg Red and Gonub.  The popular cultivars of ABB are the Kalapuas.  The triploid AAB are mostly found in the highlands of PNG and some common cultivars include; Rukumamb, Rukumamb Tambey, Yaurie and Kerua. The internationally important dessert banana variety Cavendish belongs to the triploid AAA genome. Cultivar Buka from the island of Bougainville is a common AABB tetraploid.
Over the years, the Department of Agriculture & Livestock and NARI have collected around 500 farmer cultivars/landraces or accessions of bananas from all the genomic groups. The PNG National Banana Germplasm Collection or Gene-bank is housed at the NARI Southern Regional Centre at Laloki. It holds 217 accessions/landraces and 10 international varieties and hybrids that were introduced specifically for their resistance to the Sigatoka leaf disease complex. Some 500 accessions were collected from farmers’ fields/gardens throughout the country through national and international governments sponsored collecting expeditions in the past. During the collecting expeditions, both wild and landraces were collected. Wild species and some diploid AA accessions did not survive the ex situ field conditions at Laloki, which contributed to the decline in the number of the current collection.
The national gene-bank holds accessions totaling 79 accessions of diploid AAs, 42 of triploids AAAs, 37 of ABBs, 33 of AABs and 4 accessions of tetraploid AAAAs.
Work on banana research and development (R&D) in relation to genetic resources collection, conservation, management and utilization was initiated by DAL in the late seventies but how under NARI mandate.
The accessions in the collection are being preliminary assessed for their agronomic potential as well as selection for tolerance/resistance to biotic and abiotic conditions especially adaptation to climatic changes including drought and salinity conditions.  Each accession in the collection is described morphologically through the use of a Standard Descriptor List developed by the International Plant Genetic Resource Institute.
Wild banana species are valuable ‘raw materials’ that are very useful for breeders in their Crop Improvement and Breeding Programmes. Therefore, it is important and essential to properly conserve and maintain the rich diversity in our bananas for crop improvement efforts.
If we neglect our responsibilities today, we will definitely reap the harvest of ‘neglect’ tomorrow and beyond.  So start conserving what we still have now before it is too late.