Banana could be the only food source for millions of families in developing countries in the future as traditional crops struggle with change in climate, a new study reveals.
Due to its ability to weather extremely cold and dry spells, the demand for banana is projected to rise by upto 50 percent in the next 20 years as traditional crops take a toll from unbearable weather patterns.
The research by agricultural research group CGIAR on request by United Nations' committee on world food security looked into the future of the world's most important agricultural commodities in terms of calories including maize, rice, and wheat. The study revealed that in many of the developing countries including Kenya there had been notable decrease in production and yield which would be amplified in the next 10-20 years thanks to climate change.
But even as scientists now get a future food security answer with bananas they are equally grappling with another headache; that of tackling the need for protein in the diet. Currently many families use soybeans and even food processors have adopted it as a cheaper alternative to the prohibitively expensive sources of protein like eggs, beef and fish.
But even soyabeans are very susceptible to temperature changes and is only a matter of time before their production fall. Scientists are therefore toying with the idea of aggressively marketing cowpea, commonly referred to as poor man's meat as an alternative to soybean since it is drought tolerant and prefers warmer weather. The vines of the cowpea can also be used as a feed for livestock.
“We have already started to notice some of these changes in farming of traditional crops. In Kenya for example we are always developing new varieties of maize and wheat which still dont cope well with vagaries of weather. Infact wheat yields in the last 3 years has dropped by about 25 percent even with the launch of new varieties.
Maize has borne the brunt of shift in climate equally which has seen the area under cultivation go down,” said Mworia Waboke an agronomist with the Ministry of Agriculture.
Kenya has over 400,000 small holder banana farmers with 1.7 per cent of Kenya’s total arable land planted to bananas. Over 85 percent of East Africans rely on banana for income and food with the global market for the crop totaling to some $ 5 billion a year.
“In the wake of certain crops doing badly and farmers abandoning them, we are now going full throttle in promotion of banana as the food of the future and would want to get over 1 million farmers to go into banana farming. Already KARI is working with other scientists to come up with even higher yielding varieties that will complement tissue culture bananas,” said Waboke.
Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter
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