Researcher’s Foresight Gives Hope to Indonesian Cooking Banana Industry

The discovery of several disease-resistant banana trees by a far-sighted scientist may save farmers across South East Asia from an epidemic that has already destroyed the banana industry in several Indonesian provinces.

Professor Ivan Buddenhagen discovered the trees – a variety of cooking banana, known as ‘pisang kepok’ – in the early 1990s. Realizing that they were resistant to a devastating disease known as ‘blood disease’, he saved some of the plants as insurance against a future outbreak. Now that foresight may save Indonesia’s ailing kepok industry.

Professor Buddenhagen, who is a researcher at the University of California at Davis, shared his find with the Centre for the Alleviation of Poverty through the Development of Secondary Crops in Asia and the Pacific (CAPSA), a UN body based in Bogor, Indonesia. CAPSA is using its close relationship with the Ministry of Agriculture of Indonesia to develop a project aimed at propagating the kapok plant and distributing it to farmers across the archipelago.

“This breakthrough for pisang kepok is a testament to Professor Buddenhagen’s vision and perseverance, and will prevent a potential tragedy for many poor farmers,” said Mr. Taco Bottema, Director of CAPSA.

The kapok banana is a staple food that is highly susceptible to blood disease which has wiped out the banana industry in South and Central Kalimantan and South Suluwesi, and is spreading in other Indonesian provinces. It poses a major threat to hundreds of thousands of Indonesian farmers whose livelihoods and food security partly depend on the kepok.

The disease spreads like an epidemic, and if unchecked might jeopardize food supplies for the poor in Thailand, Myanmar, Viet Nam, Bangladesh and many countries in Africa and Latin America. As recently as 2005, three million trees in Indonesia were affected by the disease. This accounted for the loss of over 60,000 tones of valuable food.