BANANA ISthe gift of nature which is called by Allah in Quran as the fruit of paradise. Wonderfully sweet with firm and creamy flesh, bananas come prepackaged in their own yellow jackets and are available for harvest throughout the year. Its nutritional value is high with a rare combination of energy value, tissue-building elements, proteins, vitamins and minerals. The easily assailable sugar makes it an excellent means of recovery from fatigue. In combination with milk these form a complete balanced diet providing three essential amino acids.
Bananas are nutritious, providing vitamin C, vitamin B6 and smaller amounts of other B group vitamins such as folate. They are an excellent source of fiber and resistant starch, which acts very much like fiber. The high level of potassium in bananas helps to keep blood pressure normal. In traditional medicine, banana is considered natures secret to youth. It aids in digestion and helps in the retention of calcium, phosphorus and nitrogen, the three minerals which work towards building sound and regenerated tissues. Banana is an important economic and food crop. Banana plant belongs to genus Musa of the family “Musaceae”, a monocotyledonous family.
There are three commercially important species of banana: the Musa acuminata Colla or “desert banana” which is consumed ripe and raw; the second is the Musa X paradisiaca (syn. Musa sapientum L.) or plantain eaten green after cooking. The third is Musa textiles Nees also called as Abaca, which is used as a fiber crop. Banana plants are vegetatively propagated and are grown in all tropical agriculture systems.
Pakistan is a banana growing country and one of its provinces, the Sindh, is the major contributor to banana production. Banana was first introduced in Sindh in 1913, for acclimatization and testing. Farmers find banana cultivation an attractive prospect due to it being grown all year round, as well as the price difference in local and international markets. Bananas are cultivated on almost 90,000 acres of land in the country, while the produce on one acre can bring around Rs 0.4 million the highest among fruits grown in the country.
The Banana Crop modeling presents challenges to both farmers and researchers. Farmers want to increase production, reduce costs, and remain profitable under the variable climate and economic conditions. Researchers want to match soils, climates, and crop growth and give sound management advice. On post-harvest problems, Sindh produces around 126,000 metric tons of bananas annually; around 32.2,000 hectares land in Sindh is devoted to this crop. We may need the services of a food scientist/post-harvest technologist (physiologist, biochemist and plant pathologist). There are three major areas to be researched in banana post harvest handling, a) to standardized ripening regimes (temp, ethylene, ethephon, I MCP etc) b) post-harvest treatments to minimize rots (anthracnose and stem end rots) and c) physiochemical studies (finger drop and finger splitting) after ripening.
Banana is extremely labour intensive fruit crop by doing so huge employment opportunities to the local people can be provided. Every 10 acres we have one permanent highly skilled supervisor and he is supported with one assistant and 4 to 6 daily wage labours to conduct other. The government should take care of this sector and support farmers in enhancing cultivation based on tissue culture (virus-free small plant cultivation), providing better water supply and curtailing illegal trade in order to bring higher revenues to the national exchequer. If we broadly analyze the whole banana value chain and production system at the expense of dwindling resources, we are nowhere, we dont know how long this mirage of banana being a lucrative fruit crop will continue but future seems bright. To turn things around we have to seriously take up above mentioned issues and provide some concrete solutions. It can never be achieved if we work individually; collective efforts and dedicated collaborative efforts are required from everyone associated directly or indirectly with this banana business. we know that there is no onword solution to these problems but an effort can be made by utilizing our indigenous local resources. Maybe to establish a separate and fully dedicated banana research institute in Sindh to be linked with above mentioned international banana players as the first step.
The writers are associated with the Institute of Horticultural Sciences, University of Agricultural Faisalabad, Pakistan.