Benefits Of An Innovative Banana Seed Multiplication Method
Banana is an important staple in the tropical Pacific region. Its significance to food security is critical and better methods of seed management, disease control and cultivation need to be used. Over the years, the National Agriculture Research (NARI) has worked on various studies to improve banana varieties and farming practices. These efforts have also contributed towards managing the impacts of climate change and the spread of diseases. One innovative seed management process NARI has developed to help sustain banana production is the banana bit technology.
Banana bits are pieces extracted from the banana corm (the part of the stem that is in the ground) which has new shoot buds or eyes. A banana bit would be no larger than 25 cm2 and may weigh around 250 grams, on average. They are cut and prepared carefully to avoid damage being done to the buds.
The extraction of banana bits has a number of advantages. As a method of seed multiplication, it is especially beneficial as farmers could extract more buds from one corm in just a few minutes instead of a few suckers collected over several days. This ensures a higher multiplication ratio per banana plant compared to using suckers only. Also banana bits are less heavy to transport, over long distances.
There is also the advantage of ensuring accessibility to disease free seedlings. The bits can be treated with bleach water or fire ashes to prevent the carry over of nematodes and other soil-borne pests and diseases. These treatments increase the likelihood of growing healthy plants and producing better yields.
NARI has been promoting varieties of banana that are tolerant to diseases like the Black Sigatoka. This has been possible through its participation in the International Network Improvement of Bananas and Plantains, between 2008 and 2010. Currently, there is ongoing research to respond to banana deaths occurring in Mutzing district, Morobe province. Initial observations indicate the likelihood of this being caused by bacterial parasites (BWAP) that cause bananas to wilt.
The banana bit seed multiplication method could also embraced as a food security measure. It has the potential to ensure excess to a large number of clean planting materials to counter stresses on food resources during disease outbreaks and extreme climatic events. During the 2007 and 2015/16 droughts, dependence on certain species of banana had proven vital to the resilience of many communities across the country.
Making banana bit seedlings starts with the selection of a grown plant which is close to flowering or has recently beared first fruits. Harvested mother banana plants are not suitable as they may not provide sufficient banana bits. After cutting the tree and uprooting the corm, it should be gently cleaned to expose the emerging buds or eyes. The shoot buds should then be selected and cut into a uniform shape. Care should be applied when peeling the outer layer of the skin at least two centimetres from the bud to the remove unwanted buds. The bud should be at the centre of the bit.
After making banana bits from the corm, they should be cleaned of any possible disease or contamination. There are two main ways of doing that. The first approach is to prepare a 10 ml of bleach solution. Banana bits are dipped into this solution to be sterilized. The second measure is to rub the banana bits with wood ashes. The treated bits should be stored in a cool place to avoid loss of moisture and damage from exposure to direct sunlight and heat. They are then ready to be planted within a week.
NARI makes every effort to promote this simple technology to the smallholder farmers during its field day exhibitions, annual innovation shows and provincial agricultural shows. This would certainly be the case again this year. A NARI pamphlet titled ‘Banana Bit Information (Toktok Bilong Banana Bit)’ could be accessed by interested stakeholders at all NARI Centres, around the country.