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Posted 22 August 2005. PMN Crop News.

Harvesting Hope: Kenyan Farmers Celebrate First Banana Harvest Using New Growing Technology

Africa harvest, DuPont help African farming community reap the benefits of tissue culture bananas

Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc.

Chura Community, Nairobi, Kenya (August 18, 2005) African village farmers are harvesting hope along with their banana crop.

Marking a two-year culmination of a partnership between Africa Harvest -- a Kenyan-based agricultural nonprofit organization -- and DuPont, this year's harvest in Chura is the first in the community to include bananas grown via tissue culture propagation.

"DuPont is proud to partner with Africa Harvest in bringing tissue culture banana technology to the Chura community," said Charles O. Holliday, Jr., DuPont Chairman and CEO. "We are especially enthusiastic about this project because it goes beyond simply increasing productivity. It is truly sustainable."

Creating new markets to accommodate increased banana production is one way this project will benefit the community for years to come, he said. Also, extra income for farm families means more business for local merchants and added opportunities for everyone in the community, Holliday adds.

"Many of the families in Chura face hunger and poverty," said Florence Wambugu, Ph.D., CEO of Africa Harvest. "Along with developing agribusiness to improve the economy of Chura and the surrounding areas, the tissue culture program helps to increase sustainable incomes and alleviate hunger and poverty."

Tissue culture technology in Africa has increased banana productivity from 20 to 45 tons per hectare, Wambugu said. She adds that for the typical Churan family, which can average up to 10 individuals, increased production translates to a climb in income from the current average of US$1 per day, per family to as much as US$3 per day, per family.

"For these families, this additional income can mean the difference between sending their children to school or being forced to keep them home," said Wambugu. "It is important to understand that the difference tissue culture bananas make is far beyond the field."

Kenyan Banana Production

Wambugu, a plant pathologist, explains tissue culture propagation is the process of growing tissue culture for plant shoot-tips in a laboratory until they are ready for transplant into the field. Because of the highly controlled starter environment, tissue culture propagation significantly reduces disease and dramatically improves yield when coupled with good agronomic practices she says. In addition, Africa Harvest uses a strategic whole value chain approach with tissue culture banana technology, which includes: awareness creation and information outreach, access to tissue culture banana seedlings, agronomic best practices, post harvest banana fruit handling best practices and linkage to competitive markets.

Tissue culture propagation contrasts with the current African practice of transferring banana suckers between farms. While reflecting a long-standing heritage, this traditional approach increases the risk of transmitting pests and spreading disease among the banana crops.

"Banana production in this country has been in decline over the last 10 years," said Wambugu. "Yields can be reduced by up to 90 percent from using the same suckers on multiple farms, and this of course, means a major income loss for farmers."

Additionally, land scarcity limits the opportunity for rotational production, so many crops are planted in infected soils further perpetuating disease and pest problems.

"However, many of these issues can be avoided by using tissue culture propagation, and that is why we eagerly collaborate with DuPont on this effort," said Wambugu. "Africa Harvest provides the local expertise, and DuPont enables the worthy effort with their financial support."

Wambugu further explains that bananas were chosen for the tissue culture project because of the crop's ability to provide income for farmers, with small pieces of land, over a prolonged period of time -- usually about 10 years. In Chura, 150,000 tissue culture banana plants have been distributed to date.

With a goal of increasing sustainability among the local community, 2,500 farm families -- or 25,000 individuals -- have benefited from the Churan tissue culture banana project to date, said Wambugu. An estimated 50,000 people will be positively impacted as the program continues, she adds.

Beyond Bananas: Sustainability for Kenyan Maize Production


In addition to the tissue culture banana project, DuPont -- through its subsidiary, Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. -- is working with Africa Harvest to demonstrate to Kenyan farmers the value of hybrid maize seed and the importance of applying the best agronomic practices in maize production.

The project includes agronomic and crop management demonstration and training by Pioneer representatives; it also provides farmers with access to credit for purchasing inputs. The goal of the maize partnership is to further contribute to food security through increased production of a staple food crop.

"The success of both of these projects makes them a model for other sustainable agricultural and developmental projects that can benefit many more communities and farmers throughout Kenya, Africa, and the developing world," says Holliday.

Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation International (AHBFI or Africa Harvest) is incorporated in the United States as a nonprofit foundation. It has its headquarters in Kenya and operational regional offices in Johannesburg, South Africa and in Washington D.C., United States.

Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc., a subsidiary of DuPont, is the world's leading source of customized solutions for farmers, livestock producers and grain and oilseed processors. With headquarters in Des Moines, Iowa, Pioneer provides access to advanced plant genetics, crop protection solutions and quality crop systems to customers in nearly 70 countries. DuPont is a science company. Founded in 1802, DuPont puts science to work by creating sustainable solutions essential to a better, safer, healthier life for people everywhere. Operating in more than 70 countries, DuPont offers a wide range of innovative products and services for markets including agriculture, nutrition, electronics, communications, safety and protection, home and construction, transportation and apparel.


Stephanie Jacobson

Daniel Kamanga
Africa Harvest

Distributed by PR Newswire on behalf of Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc.