Monday, March 22, 2010

Rapid Multiplication of Bananas

In northern Thailand there's lots of demand for banana stalks these days. In many parts of Asia banana stalk is a traditional feed for pigs. After slicing up the stalks, farmers usually boil them to increase digestibility. Fed alone, such plant material isn't very nutritious. So stalks are usually mixed with other more nutritious feeds such as rice bran, corn, papaya fruit, kitchen scraps and wild vegetables. Otherwise, they mainly serve to fill hungry animals.

In recent years, growing numbers of farmers have been adopting a proven practice of fermenting banana stalk with molasses and a little salt. Reducing the need for fuel to cook the stalks, the fermentation process boosts the presence of digestible bacteria in the silage, making stalks considerably more nutritious. And mixed with smaller amounts of nutritious local feed or supplemented with a little commercial pig feed, fermented banana stalks offer a cheap, nutritious component for small-scale pig production. This, in turn, helps to boost small farm income.

But with every innovation comes another challenge. With demand for banana stems growing, in some areas, stalk scarcity is becoming an issue. So can the production of these plant materials be boosted somehow?

Years ago, ECHO Development Notes ran a story on rapid multiplication of bananas (RMB). Basically, banana stems are mangled a bit to prompt the main corm (underground stem/root system) to produce more daughter corms and, ultimately, transplantable suckers. And a few years later, EDN reported on another rapid banana multiplication approach whereby banana corms are dug up, trimmed and scored just so to injure meristems before being placed in plant beds to stimulate the production of a lot more plantlets. So the idea is, one way or another, to stimulate the production of a lot more plantlets (suckers) which can be transplanted to establish more clumps of usable banana stalks.

Unable to find any references to RMB in our part of the world, I turned to Abram Bicksler. With a freshly minted PhD. in Sustainable Agriculture from the University of Illinois, Abram currently serves as an instructor with the International Sustainable Development Studies Institute in Chiang Mai; a key ECHO Asia partner. Abram (shown here) is helping to design a trial by which various RMB approaches can be tested to see if any might actually boost the production of banana propagation material in a way that can be readily adopted by farmers.

Having recently run a "trial" RMB at the Upland Holistic Development Project Center, Abram is encouraged by initial results. He is now planning to implement a comprehensive field trial to evaluate promising methodologies which have emerged during the preliminary trial. Hopefully, this collaboration between ECHO, Abram (ISDSI) and UHDP will yield some very useful RMB techniques for regional pig farmers to employ.

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