The Difficult Rescue of Ethiopian Bananas

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In Ethiopia, Ensete ventricosum (also known as Ethiopian Banana), a plant close to the banana, considered as the basis of local staple foods, is ravaged by bacterial wilt. Sometimes neglected by scientists, the search to save the plant begins to intensify.

The Ethiopian bananas, the ensetes in real name, are the symbol of "food security" in Ethiopia. The plant is amongst the most consumed foods by locals for generations.

It’s only been thirty years, the Xanthomonas, a bacterium, causes the leaves of the plantations to rot. A study carried out by two Ethiopian scientists shows that it is possible to contain the epidemic.

Until then, one of the most effective solutions is to treat the suckers of infested plants. The sucker being a sprout at the base of a root. Thanks to this treatment, weeds can be grown from infested plants. The process already existed, but Genene Gezahegn of the University of Gonder and Firew Mekbib of Haramaya University, both from Ethiopia, relied on several studies, notably, one carried out at the University of Kagoshima, Japan to perform the treatment in vitro.

Two plant hormones were injected to the suckers: benzyladenine and naphthalene acetic acid. These molecules had been used to treat bananas of several diseases. The results of the experiment show that the treated plants no longer show any symptoms of wilting. Once removed from the incubators, 50 to 60% of the treated plants can flourish for more than 15 days in non-sterilized soil (up to 90% for sterilized soils).

"The process is not entirely new, says Emmanuel Wicker, a biologist at the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD). It is used to treat bananas trees in Africa and South America. But as far as the Ensete ventricosum is concerned, it is relatively innovative "

The Ensete ventricosum is produced exclusively by small farmers and not for mass culture. Thus, without any help, access to the various treatments is not obvious and the most used method remains the elimination of infested plants. But given that the plant takes 8 years to mature, an infested crop leads to a heavy economic loss spread over several years.

This study could therefore be used by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), which three years ago, launched a vast project to save the Ethiopian Banana. A real duty for Emmanuel Wicker: "The government, or associations of farmers must mobilize to help stop the epidemic," and therefore save what is now more than an Ethiopian tradition.

Anthony Audureau

Reference : G. Gezahegn & F. Mekbib, African Journal of Biotechnology, 15, 2192, 2016.



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