Bananas, including dessert banana, plantain, and cooking banana, are the fourth most important food crop in the least developed countries ranked by total production and food consumption. Total global production in 2010 was 136 million metric tons.

Photo S.Quinn/CIP

Banana production in many areas rests upon a narrow genetic base. Many major production zones are dominated by cultivar sets that are clonal variants of a base cultivar. Bioversity International’s International Transit Center is the world’s largest collection of bananas with more than 1,400 accessions maintained as in vitro plantlets. The genebank includes mostly cultivars, plus some improved material and wild Musa, which make up less than 15% of the accessions. Increasing the representation of wild species is one of the genebank’s priorities. Like roots and tubers, bananas are vegetatively propagated polyploids, traits that affect their breeding, propagation, and distribution. Key traits for breeding include yield, crop cycle, resistance/tolerance to pests, diseases, and abiotic stress, nutritional qualities, postharvest attributes, and preferred enduser qualities.