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Agro-Ecological intensification in banana and plantain (Musa spp) : An approach to develop more sustainable cropping systems for both smallholder farmers and large-scale commercial producers

Côte F.X., Tomekpé K., Staver C., Depigny S., Lescot T., Markham R.. 2010. In : Dubois T. (ed.), Hauser S. (ed.), Staver Charles (ed.), Coyne D. (ed.). Proceedings of the International Conference on banana and plantain in Africa : harnessing international partnerships to increase research impact, Mombasa, Kenya, October 5-9, 2008. Louvain : ISHS [Belgique], p. 457-463. (Acta Horticulturae, 879). International Conference on Banana and Plantain in Africa: Harnessing international partnerships to increase research impact, 2008-10-05/2008-10-09, Mombasa (Kenya).

Urban centers in sub-Saharan Africa are generating a growing demand for plantain (Musa spp.). Farmers have not responded by increasing supply and this crop has gone from being a staple food to a food for special occasions. Smallholder farmers face numerous difficulties in improving production and productivity of plantain. Diseases, such as black leaf streak and Banana bunchy top virus, have spread into new areas. Shortened fallow periods and declining soil fertility have exacerbated the losses due to nematodes and weevils. Fertilizers and pesticides are difficult to obtain, expensive and not properly evaluated in plantain cropping systems. High input production has not been applied in plantain production for urban markets. In addition, this production approach is increasingly questioned due to negative impacts on the environment, the health of workers and nearby rural communities, in addition to the increasing cost of energy intensive inputs. Agro-ecological intensification is a practical, knowledge-based approach with potential to respond both to the needs of smallholder farmers for increased production through more efficient use of local resources and to the demands placed on the high-input export sector for more environmental sustainability. This approach does not exclude the use of external inputs, but focuses on biological mechanisms to suppress pests and diseases, strategies to increase total crop photosynthesis and conversion to yield, and management of soil nutrient cycles for a healthier and more productive crop. In this approach, management of functional biodiversity and deployment of better knowledge about agro-ecological interactions serve to reduce losses, optimize crop residue breakdown and symbiotic nitrogen fixation, and promote crop health. We conclude that agro-ecological intensification is easily applicable in export bananas. Strategies for application of the concept to plantain are facilitated by targeting approaches to specific systems defined by distance to market and quality of the natural resource base.
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