Banana R&D is quite different for commercial cultivation (Export Oriented) & local consumption (Domestic oriented) so the level of ‘sophistication’ is always be too high when it comes to commercial cultivation. There are three major thrust areas that need to be properly sorted out.
1. Good quality, disease free, healthy, uniform planting material in the form of tissue culture. No need to mention about existing planting materials. currently we grow Cavendish dwarf (more than 90% commercially grown), Grand Naine, William Hybrid & recently couple of Chinese cultivars. The best way to obtain improved planting materials (on a large scale) is through breeding. So we may have to think along that line. All the same, we can contact KUL, Belgium for assistance.
2. Better banana production technology: Right now we are growing banana only to supply domestic markets in very conventional & rough methods so losses are huge. Since we have 100% flood irrigation, 80-100 acre inches irrigation water is being used which is very high by any standard, it itself poses some serious environmental & social challenges. (Water use efficiency in Pakistan for all crops is 22%, what a pity). To introduce higher efficiency irrigation system & water soluble fertilizers will require good skill & expertise to be used effectively but huge cost will also incur on it. Banana being tropical crop requires a lot of moisture but in Sindh due to harsh climatic condition hot & dry desert like sub-tropics (extremely high temperature in summer & sometimes low temp in winter “risk of frost bite” regimes, low rainfall less than 200 mm/annum), higher soil pH (waterlogging, salinity & sodacity), poor drainage system are all contributing for getting poor yields, since Sindh has deltoic soil, variation is huge (virgin soils), low in organic matter, deficient in certain major minerals especially P, K, Boron, Zn & Iron. Whereas, in other banana producing countries due to their tropical & wet subtropical climatic conditions, uniformity is not an issue even though they have some problems but not of our scale & nature.
In order to improve it we have to carry out multilocational and on-farm research trials to sample the opinion of local farmers on emerging technologies in banana cultivation to establish better understanding about the various characteristics, behavior & performance of different banana cultivars, their phonological cycles, soil types, nutritional requirements on the basis of soil (Cation Balance) leaf & dry matter content analysis (site & variety specific different fertilization program), and various other environmental and agronomical factors, input management, insect & disease management systems like BBTVD in particular which among diseases is a major threat to banana, luckily in 2001 we at Asim Agriculture Farm came up with an excellent solution. Sindh in general is taking lower productivity per acre from all other Asian countries (4-6 tons/acre in Pakistan and 18 tons/acre an average of all Asian banana producing countries). Some progressive banana farmers (in my area are obtaining 18-25 tons/acre) so there is a huge potential to maximize the productivity, quality & better returns.
Banana Crop modeling: presents challenges to both farmers and researchers. Farmers want to increase production, reduce costs, and remain profitable under variable climate and economic conditions. Researchers want to match soils, climates, and crop growth and give sound management advice.
About Australian banana industry we have one Research Article on “Banana Industry of Australia & Lessons Learnt”.
3. On postharvest problems: Sindh produces around 126,000 metric tones of banana annually; around 32.2 thousand hectares land in Sindh is devoted to this crop. we may need the services of a Food scientist/ post harvest technologist (physiologist, biochemist & 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 & stem end rots) and c. physiochemical studies (finger drop & finger splitting) after ripening. Recently University of Philippines has released two videos presentation on this topic (http://www.scivee.tv/node/17136 &http://www.scivee.tv/node/17290). Right now we are producing banana only to serve domestic markets and recently domestic markets are divided into three, a. Kabul, b. Lahore & c. local (nearby markets). Kabul market offer 100-200 PKR more than Lahore market /40kg. Same is true with Quetta market. We called it unofficially exported banana to Central Asian States via Kabul and bordering province of Iran via Quetta. On the ground scale of post harvest losses are huge but uncalculated. Roughly it is estimated that 20-30% banana fruit is moving from Sindh to these destinations. Green bananas are cut and taken on the workers shoulders and placed on the open land to be loaded into the open end ordinary trucks without any covering on each bunch and then transported to various wholesale markets. In between there is no temperature control, ripening, bruises & compression losses. Our domestic consumption/capita/year is 0.9 kg whereas maximum in Philippines 34 kg. No doubt prices of banana/40 kg has increased manifold since 2006, mainly due to unofficial export to such destinations but we are not getting any feedbacks of our produce quality. Current cost of production is 80,000-150,000 PKR/acre. So in terms of income/acre we are far better than any banana producing countries of the world but in terms of quality, resource utilization & average yield of province we are far far behind than all other countries.
Banana is extremely labor intensive fruit crop by doing so huge employment opportunities to the local peoples 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 labors to conduct other operations.
If we broadly analyze the whole banana value chain & production system at the expense of dwindling resources, we are nowhere, I don’t know how long this mirage of banana being 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 & dedicated collaborative efforts are required from everyone associated directly or indirectly with this banana business. I know that there is no on word solution to these problems but an effort can be made by utilizing our indigenous local resources. May be to establish a separate & fully dedicated banana research institute in Sindh to be linked with above mentioned international banana players as the first step. Need your feedbacks.