Banana is one of the world’s favorite fruits. Most Western countries know only one type, the Cavendish, used as a dessert, but bananas have different colours, shapes and sizes and can be eaten raw, fried, grilled, boiled or prepared in many more ways. Scientists think that there may be up to 1,000 different
varieties of bananas. This fruit originated in South and Southeast Asia
and is now grown throughout the tropics and subtropics. One country has the
largest concentration of banana diversity in one place. You may be
surprised to find out that this country is Belgium. At the Catholic University of
Leuven, a few kilometres from Brussels, Bioversity International maintains the
world’s largest banana diversity collection, known as the Musa
International Transit Centre. The collection contains more than 1,500
samples of edible and wild species of banana coming from all over the world. Bananas
normally do not have seeds so they are conserved as small plantlets in vitro – that is
to say in test tubes under controlled light and temperature. For security and
long-term conservation, samples are also frozen in liquid nitrogen at -196°C in a process called
cryopreservation. In this way the plants can be conserved for thousands of years
and revived into full plants as needed. in 30 years the International Transit Centre has distributed over 17,000 banana samples to researchers and
farmers in 109 countries. Bananas are a source of food, nutrition
and income for millions of people worldwide but they are a vulnerable crop,
susceptible to many pests and diseases that put its production and the
livelihoods of those who depend on it at risk. Safeguarding banana diversity and the
diversity of crops is vital to make agriculture more productive resilient
and sustainable. If we use and safeguard crop diversity we can nourish people and
sustain the planet.