Plantain and highland cooking bananas are important staple crops in West-Central Africa and Eastern Africa, respectively. They play an essential role in food security, enhanced livelihoods, and resilient agricultural systems.
But breeding bananas and plantains was for a long time considered impossible due to sterility and triploidy – containing only vestigial seeds, they are unable to sexually reproduce. This poses challenges for the development of improved varieties able to withstand threats such as black sigatoka, a common and highly destructive leaf spot disease.
In 1987, CGIAR scientists at IITA finally found a way to breed several black-sigatoka-resistant plantain hybrids, demonstrating that banana breeding is in fact possible, through a combination of conventional and novel methods. Their achievement earned IITA the International King Badouin Award in 1994.