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September 25, 2008

Kenya-based international conference to discuss banana issues, October 5-9

Banana and plantain growers, scientists, entrepreneurs and policy makers from around the world will gather in the coastal Kenyan city of Mombasa early next month for a conference seeking to make banana the next cash crop.

Organizers said on September 23 that the October 5-9 conference is expected to launch an ambitious and unprecedented 10-year effort aimed at transforming what is now largely a subsistence crop, into a major cash earner for millions of Africa's rural poor.

The conference, sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Technical Centre for Agriculture and Rural Cooperation (CTA), the Belgium Directorate General for Development and Cooperation (DGDC) and other public and private organizations, will concentrate on banana markets and trade, production and technical innovation, with the goal of producing a tangible 10-year strategy to realize the potential of this crucial crop to alleviate poverty and generate wealth. Conference speakers will offer, among other things.

"The Banana and Plantain in Africa Conference represents a first comprehensive attempt to create stronger global and local market links in the region for a crop valued at 1.7 billion U.S. dollars in East Africa alone," the statement said.

The five-day meeting has been organized by the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), in partnership with Bioversity International, the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), the International Society for Horticultural Science(ISHS) and the Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute (KARI).

According to the statement from IITA, researchers will present results from a wide range of groundbreaking studies that point to numerous opportunities in fields, labs and markets for substantially boosting the production and earning power of a crop that currently feeds more than 100 million Africans but whose potential has yet to be tapped.

"The speakers will offer among others concrete evidence that concerted efforts to improve market access for the small farmers who grow the bulk of Africa's bananas and plantains could double or even triple their earnings," it said.

A blueprint for boosting incomes in marginal areas through improved banana processing will be also the discussed.

In Africa, diverse products are derived from the banana crop, including beer, wine, juice, sauce, mats, handbags, envelopes, postcards, flour, soap and breakfast cereals.

Yet, as a result of low investment in processing and market development, most income from bananas still comes mainly from the sale of perishable fruit for immediate consumption.

The statement said new insights into the fight against numerous diseases and pests, enhancing nutritional quality and raising production through new banana hybrids and crop management techniques will be discussed at the Mombasa meeting.

"This will include a discussion of the role of biotechnology in the overall push to improve banana production in Africa," it said.

A recent report from an African agriculture research consortium found that Uganda's reliance on homegrown bananas for food and income was a key reason why during the recent global farm commodity crisis, the food price index rose only 10 percent in Uganda, compared to the global average of 56 percent.

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