Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Dietary micro–nutrient (vitamins, minerals) and macro–nutrient (protein, lipids, carbohydrate) insufficiency are key factors contributing to morbidity and poverty in the developing world. Food aid and food supplements are clearly not a sustainable answer to this global epidemic. Changing cropping systems can result in the delivery of a balanced diet but there are significant barriers to its widespread adoption in developing countries. The most appropriate strategy is to improve the nutritive value of currently accepted foods, particularly crop plants. Although there is evidence that nutrient content can be increased by conventional plant breeding, there are few successful examples of this strategy in the staple crops of developing countries.
The Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities is spear–heading an international effort to genetically engineer nutritionally fortified bananas for release to farmers in Uganda. Despite its position as the second largest banana producer in the world, Uganda does not export bananas which underscores the importance of this fruit as a staple food crop.
This large project is part of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation´s Grand Challenges in Global Health Program. Commenced in 2005, the project is led by QUT with collaborators in Uganda (the world´s second largest banana producer after India), Kenya and Tanzania. Bananas are a staple food in the highlands of East Africa where consumption is up to 1kg per person per day. The primary cooking banana group, known as East African Highland bananas, are the basis of diets that are low in pro–vitamin A, vitamin E and iron. The project is genetically modifying both Cavendish in Australia as the model, and East African Highland bananas in Uganda for increased biosynthesis of pro–vitamin A and vitamin E, and increased accumulation of iron. The first field trial was planted in Australia in 2009. In association with this project, QUT is leading a project to develop a scheme to ensure that farmers in East Africa are supplied with pathogen tested banana planting material.
Uganda´s National Agricultural Research Organisation is a project partner with the Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities and the grant supporting this research was generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Banana Disease Management
In conjunction with long–standing QUT research in banana disease control research and development in banana disease diagnostics, production of disease–free planting material and certification systems to enable maintenance of uninfected planting material for Central African farmers is also being undertaken within the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation research program.