What are East African Highland Banana’s (EAHBs) and why are they important for food security?

Tuesday, 19. July 2011 22:25 | Author:

East African Highland bananas are one of the most important staple food crops in East Africa, particularly for Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, and Rwanda. Per capita annual consumption of bananas in Uganda is the highest in the world at 0.70 kg (1.5 lb) daily per person.Including Rwanda and Burundi, consumption is about 250 to 400 kg (550 to 880 lb) per person annually (about 3 to 11 bananas each day). Uganda itself is the second largest producer of bananas in the world. It is, however, one of the smallest exporters, the crops being intended mostly for national markets.East African Highland bananas are so important as food crops that ‘Matoke’, the traditional meal made from steamed bananas, is synonymous for the word “food” in Uganda”



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Going bananas – the East African Highland Bananas experience

Thursday, 30. May 2013 14:28 | Author:

The East African Highland bananas (EAHB) are  an important crop to the livelihoods of millions of  rural poor people in East Africa where they are  grown by small holder farmers mostly by women. They dominate large agricultural systems of Uganda and other countries in the great lakes region of East Africa (particularly Tanzania, Rwanda, Kenya, D.R. Congo and Burundi).

The bulk of East African highland bananas are grown in Uganda and alone holds about 120 EAHB varieties. Uganda is thus considered the secondary home of banana diversity. Based on the use of the fruit, the East African Highland bananas are categorized into: cooking banana (‘Matoke’) and beer bananas. These bananas are unique in terms of utilization, taste and the cultural attachment to the people in the East African region.

Food Security 

The East African Highland Bananas are a food security crop. It serves as a famine avoidance crop and provides a buffering bridge to food provision in times of scarcity between cereal harvests.

In East Africa, the care and cooking of bananas are tasks reserved for women. In Uganda, each elderly woman undertakes the responsibility to provide for ten men. Per capita annual consumption of bananas in Uganda is the highest in the world at 0.70 kg per person. In Rwanda and Burundi, consumption is about 250 to 400 kg (550 to 880 lb) per person annually (about 3 to 11 bananas each day).

A yellow paste ' matoke' made from boiled  pounded East African Highland cooking bananas

A yellow paste ‘ matoke’ made from boiled pounded East African Highland cooking bananas

A mature banana bunch of Ng'ombe cultivar, a member of the Musakala East African Highland banana Cloneset

A mature banana bunch of Ng’ombe cultivar, a member of the Musakala East African Highland banana Cloneset

Due to lack of storage facilities,transport and poor market access, the women have become innovative; they use solar driers to dry the bananas during the dry season and grind them to get flour for use during times of food scarcity and weaning babies. “Tooke flour” offers a way to extend the shelf life and can be used in recipes in place of wheat or whole wheat flour.

In Kenya, banana farming and its benefits to the population is now becoming a reality, with more farmers realizing the potential of the crop in terms of food security and income to many farmers. Lilian John, a 32 yrs old woman and mother of children started on banana farming six years ago. She recalls being presented with two banana suckers by a friend who wanted her to try her hand at growing bananas and asked her husband to buy a two acre farm where she now farms.

“I planted the two suckers and watered them to maturity. My women group thought I was  crazy. I can now feed my family and even have surplus to sell”, says Lilian, at Keumbu market in Kisii-Kenya. Currently she have over 100 plants and harvests an average of fifteen bunches per month.

Income Source

Many Kenyan and Ugandan families own less than acre of land, but fully use it growing bananas. This has transformed their socio-economic lives. The East African Highland Bananas is a major source of income for most farmers who engage in it generating up to 1500 USD per hectare per year from fresh banana sales. Farmers have preferences for cultivars that fetch more money on sale. It’s therefore likely to find more members belonging to one cloneset compared to the others. Cultivars with easy to peel character, are soft and produce deep yellow matooke, huge bunches and lax fingers sell easily and highly.


Lilian-John- EAHB farmer and trader  shows her banana produce (at the back) and other fruits that she has intercropped with bananas in her farm

A banana farmer and trader, Lilian John during an interactive session with IITA/NUIG PhD student Mercy at Keumbu-Kisii market  in Kenya

A banana farmer and trader, Lilian John explains the gains of banana farming during an interactive session with IITA/NUIG PhD student Mercy at Keumbu-Kisii market in Kenya.

“I used to harvest about five sacks of maize from one acre piece of land, but the returns from the bananas are 10 times more than that of maize.”– Lilian John. She adds on by saying that she started with one hectare but today she has three hectares of East African Banana plantation and earns a huge pay check at the end of the month.

A lady roasts bananas  (eaten as snacks) by the roadside in Masaka district of Uganda

A lady roasts bananas (eaten as snacks) by the roadside in Masaka district of Uganda

The farm produces about 15 mature bunches monthly and she expects to triple this as more plants reach full maturity.  Lilian is lucky to have a farm that she can cultivate and sells her produce without the help of middle men. Most women who don’t own farms engage into the business by buying bananas from middle men and selling them in the market either as fresh bunches or roasted as snacks.

Beer and Wine production

Beer and wine reproduction are benefits of growing the East African Highland bananas and usually fetches considerable amount of money for the farmers who engage in the business. In most East Africa countries, beer bananas are part of the male domain. In Tanzania, however, women prepare the beer and the proceeds from the sale as their only socially-acceptable form of revenue.

Alpine red wine made from ripened bananas of Mbidde EAHB cloneset

Alpine red wine made from semi-ripened bananas of Mbidde (beer), one of the five  East African Highland Banana clonesets

To motivate more farmers to plant the crop, farmers have formed farmers associations. The groups’ major aim is to produce new varieties to enhance food security in the members’ homes as well as improve their income by selling the output. The associations also helps in marketing of their produce by facilitating ready market.

In Bushenyi district of Uganda, we came across a a farmer who heads a group. He said his farm acts as a centre for  training, development and entrepreneurship of banana farmers in his group.

“This stuff sips in correctly” the farmer says as he extends a glass of local red wine made from Mbidde, members of this clone set have an astringent sap and pulp and therefore cannot be cooked. The group collects surplus bananas  that would have gone to waste to make red banana wine. The group members share the profits from the sales. Individual farmers also engage in brewing of local beer (waragi) which is a source of family income.

Inter-cropping systems and sustainable agriculture

Bananas  can be inter cropped with other crops of nutritional importance and food security such as cassava, sweet potato, arrow roots, yam, beans, maize and coffee. They are also planted on the sloppy areas where their fibrous roots help reduce soil erosion. Recycling of the plant residue into the farm helps in restoration of the soil nutrients.

Inter-cropping and prevention of soil erosion on slopy areas using bananas

Inter-cropping and prevention of soil erosion on slopy areas using bananas

Nothing goes to waste, the peels, leaves and pseudostems of the banana are used as animal feeds. In return, the manure from the animals is spread on the farm, thus maximising the crop’s food security and economic potential.” says a farmer in Western Uganda.

The exchange of planting, trading and sharing of knowledge on the care and management of the East African Highland bananas is practiced across the borders. Kenyan banana farmers obtain their planting material from Uganda and also visit farmers in Masaka and Mbarara in Uganda to acquire skills on banana farming. Kenyan farmers agree that Ugandans take banana farming seriously and some have more than 30 acres under banana mostly the East African highland bananas. Even though many Kenyan farmers are yet to acknowledge that they can improve their lot through farming of bananas, the farmers have increased their acreage of bananas and formed groups that emphasis on both commercial and subsistence farming of bananas.

Women tading at one of the biggest  roadside banana market at Keumbu-Kisii in Kenya

Women trading at one of the biggest roadside banana market at Keumbu-Kisii in Kenya


The sustainability of livelihoods dependent on cultivation of East African Highland Bananas in Uganda and neighbouring countries is currently threatened by the genetic uniformity of the crop (which is essentially a monoculture), which makes the crop prone to losses due to the emergence of pests, diseases, climate change effects and socio-economic pressures that have the potential to decimate current EAHB cultivars.


There is an urgent need to improve the efficiency of EAHB breeding programs and to diversify the genetic base of EAHB production in the Great Lakes region to ensure that the crop can continue in its food and livelihood security role. The limited level of crop improvement research focused on EAHB (in Africa and worldwide) combined with the complicated breeding system of the crop present major challenges for EAHB crop improvement to meet the current and future needs of smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa.
For instance, the breeding difficulties with EAHBs pose a constrain to the development of biofortified EAHB varieties (e.g. high vitamin A or other micronutrients) through use of banana germplasm with high vitamin A levels (Englberger et al, 2003). The potential to create hybrids with EAHB background has been demonstrated and there are numerous opportunities to improve them.

The future for the EAHB improvement looks promising;  Mercy Kitavi, a Ireland:IITA graduate fellow, research work focuses on addressing the EAHB breeding set back by generating knowledge and molecular research tools that will be applied to improve the efficiency of East African Highland bananas breeding by IITA and its National collaborative breeding partners. Knowledge on the available genetic variability will be useful in selecting superior parents (diversely related) and improve efficiency of crossing programs.

In the long run, there will be  improvement of both the breeding process and the product by generating new EAHB cultivars that retain the desirable characteristics of EAHB yet remain high yielding, pest and disease resistant an a key step to food security, enhanced livelihoods, and resilient agricultural systems for East Africa.






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Beta-carotene Content of Banana Genotypes from Uganda

Monday, 1. October 2012 9:06 | Author:


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Uganda: Urgent Funding Needed to Stem Devastating Banana Wilt

Tuesday, 10. July 2012 14:44 | Author:

Uganda: Urgent Funding Needed to Stem Devastating Banana Wilt

12 June 2012

Kampala — Lack of funding has stalled a campaign to eliminate a deadly bacterial banana wilt disease that has spread to “worrying levels” in Uganda, threatening the food security of up to 14 million consumers of bananas as a staple food, say scientists.

According to a scientist at the country’s premier agricultural research institute, the disease – known as the Banana Xanthomonas Wilt (BXW) – can only be contained if funding of up to US$1 million per year is secured for the fight against its spread.

Jerome Kubiriba, a research officer in charge of banana bacterial wilt disease at Uganda’s National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO), said if the disease continues to spread, production of cooking bananas (known locally as ‘matooke’, a major staple food in much of the country) could be halved over the next 10 years.

Studies show that annual consumption of bananas in Uganda is the highest in the world at about 0.7kg per person per day.

“Funding of at least $1 million annually would effectively save bananas worth over $200 million annually,” said Kubiriba.

“The government of Uganda used to support this effort significantly, [but] this support has drastically reduced. Even donor support dwindled since 2008. Until that time, the disease had been kept under control in major banana growing areas but it has since increased to worrying levels.”

The director of crop resources in the Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries Ministry, Okaasai Opolot, says the disease, which attacks all types of bananas and is spread by insects, wind-driven rainfall, infected planting materials and contaminated planting tools, is a threat to banana production in East Africa. More than half of mountainous South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is infected by BXW, threatening the livelihoods of local communities.


Opolot said until recently, Uganda was performing well in its fight against the disease, reducing its impact – from affecting 30 percent of fields in banana-growing areas to just 5 percent. “But we became complacent and currently we are quickly falling back to where we started, as the disease has since whirled through villages and destroyed banana plantations in western Uganda,” he told IRIN.

“I lost about 10 acres [four hectares] of banana to the disease… I had to abandon banana farming for a while, though it was our source of food and money,” Desiderio Lwanyaga, a farmer in Kyabazala, Mukono District, told IRIN by phone, saying his family had adopted maize as an alternative food. “I am yet to recover from that, but it seems the disease is back as it has been reported in the neighbourhood.”

In Uganda, banana wilt was first reported in the central district of Mukono in August 2001 and has since spread to all banana-growing areas in the country. Between 2001 and 2007, BXW spread from central parts of the country where bananas are grown for subsistence, into more than 35 districts in areas of intensive banana production. In some parts, the disease attacked 60 percent of the bananas grown. Up to 650,000 tons of bananas were produced in Uganda in 2005; however, output is estimated to have dropped to about 400,000 tons in 2008, according to the Agriculture Ministry.

Awareness campaigns, advocacy and support from policymakers and the donor community are critical to help mitigate its impact on affected farmers and their households, according to researchers who are trying to find a resistant variety.

A steering committee and a technical committee established by the Ugandan government in 2001 in response to the outbreak of the disease managed to reduce the disease incidence to less than 10 percent in areas where farmers adopted these measures, according to Opolot. However, the cost implications of the revival of these mechanisms is yet to be addressed.

Improved agricultural practices

NARO’s Kubiriba told IRIN the disease could be contained through improved agricultural practices – planting clean materials, disinfecting farm tools and early removal of male flowers. “However, once a field is infected, all banana plants should be uprooted and buried and the land left fallow or planted with different crops for six months,” he said.

“We ask them [farmers] to use tools only when removing infected plants or harvesting. Even during harvesting, take care not to infect other plants and clean the tool every time after a plant is harvested,” he added. “But because the campaign slowed down, the farmers also forgot about the practice. This has been costly, to say the least.”

A new Vitamin-A rich banana variety and another rich in iron are also threatened by the disease, according to the Science Foundation for Livelihoods and Development (SCIFODE), a science and technology advocacy group. The Vitamin-A rich variety is aimed at improving Vitamin-A intake, which scientists say can reduce blindness in children, while iron-rich bananas improve blood-iron levels in pregnant women, preventing anaemia.

“If a bacterial banana wilt-resistant banana is not quickly got, the Vitamin-A and iron-rich bananas shall also be destroyed, as there are no resistant varieties,” said SCIFODE’s Peter Wamboga-Mugirya.

The National Agricultural Research Laboratories (NARL) are working to develop disease-resistant varieties, but there are problems: “Little government funding, or none at all generally to agro-research – now below 0.5 percent of GDP – jeopardizes…research products,” said Wamboga-Mugirya.

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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East African highland bananas subgroup – from Promusa

Tuesday, 10. July 2012 14:39 | Author:

East African highland bananas subgroup

Genome group: AAA
Subgroup: East African highland bananas
Distribution: East Africa

East African highland bananas (EAHBs) form a distinct subgroup of bananas that have been domesticated in the Great Lakes region of East Africa. EAHBs grow best between 1400-2000m.

The subgroup was first called Lujugira-Mutika by Kenneth Shepherd1. An analysis of the morphological characters of accessions from Uganda revealed 84 cultivars2. The total number is probably higher as other cultivars have been observed elsewhere in the region3.

Phytolith evidence suggests that the ancestors of this subgroup have arrived on the African continent as long as 4,000 years ago 45. However, the identification of these phytoliths as belonging to bananas has been questioned6.

 Main characteristics

EAHBs are used in cooking and in making beer. They can be eaten ripe like dessert bananas, but their pulp is rather insipid.

Most of the cooking types change into beer types. The mechanism behind this change is not known.

The  pseudostem is characteristically dark, its colour varying from brown to black.

The male bud is a dull purple-brown.

The male flowers have pink anthers and an orange stigma. The lobe of the compound petal is yellow.

Clone sets

The cultivars in the subgroup have been classified into five clone sets: Nfuuka, Musakala, Nakabulu, Nakitembe and Mbidde2.


Nfuuka means “changing”. The cultivars in this clone set are morphologically unstable. It is the most heterogenous of the clones sets and also contains the greatest number of cultivars.

The bunch is compact and hangs at an angle that varies from slight to 45 degrees. Fruit are medium in size fruit and point up at an angle. The tip of the male bud is not imbricated, i.e. the bracts meet at the tip. The rachis is generally bare.


Musakala means “lax”, which refers to the spacing between the fruit.

The bunch points vertically down. The fruit are long (more than 20 cm) and point up. The tip is bottlenecked. The male bud is not imbricated. The rachis points vertically down.


Nakabulu means “short and plump”. The bunch is compact and the fruit are short and jut out at a right angle. All the fruit ripen simultaneously.

The bunch hangs at an angle. The tip of the male bud is more or less rounded. The rachis is bare and hangs at an angle


Nakitembe means ‘like ekitembe’, ekitembe being the local name in Uganda for enset.

The cultivars in this clone set resemble enset in that the bracts and floral bracts of the male flowers persist on the rachis. The male bud is imbricated. Fruits have persitent style and stamins.


Mbidde means beer. The cultivars in this clone set can have characters of other clone sets but they all have in common that their pulp is bitter and astringent. The latex is plentiful and sticky, and the pseudostem is darker.

Beer types are usually found at altitude.


1. Shepherd, K. 1957. Banana cultivars in East Africa. Trop. Agric. 34:277-286.
2. Karamura D. A. 1999. Numerical taxonomic studies of the East African highland banana (Musa AAA-East Africa) in Uganda.(external link) PhD thesis from the University of Reading
3. Tanzania Musa: expedition 2001(external link) by E. de Langhe, D. Karamura and A. Mbwana
4. Lejju, J.B., D. Taylor, P. Robertshaw. 2005. Late-Holocene environmental variability at Munsa archaeological site, Uganda: a multicore, multiproxy approach. The Holocene 15:1044-1061.
5. Lejju, J.B., P. Robertshaw, D. Taylor. 2006. Africa’s earliest bananas? Journal of Archaeological Science 33:102-113.
6. Neuman, K. and Hildebrand, E. 2009. Early Bananas in Africa: The state of the art.(external link) Ethnobotany Research & Applications 7:353-362.

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East African Highland Bananas, a staple crop of the poor in the Great Lakes region of Africa.

Wednesday, 25. May 2011 14:29 | Author:

This blog site will highlight all news, research and information regarding East African Highland Bananas, a staple crop of the poor in the Great Lakes region of Africa. The site is maintained by PhD student Mercy Kitavi who is funded by Irish Aid and IITA to conduct food security relevant research on East African Higland bananas, with help and encouragement from Prof Charlie Spillane (Botany and Plant Science, NUI Galway, Ireland) and Dr. Jim Lorenzen (IITA banana breeding program, Tanzania) in whose research groups Mercy is conducting her research.

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