Crop Genebank Knowledge Base

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Crops section Banana


Contact person for Banana: Bart Panis, Bioversity, Belgium

Contributors to this page: Bioversity International, France (Nicolas Roux, Anne Vezina, Max Ruas, Stephanie Channeliere), Bioversity International, Belgium (Bart Panis, Ines Van den Houwe), Bioversity International, Ethiopia (Michael Bolton, Alexandra Jorge), CIRAD, France (Jean Pierre Horry, Tomekpe Kodjo), Institute of Experimental Botany (Jaroslav Dolezel), IITA, Nigeria (Dominique Dumet).

Compilation of best practices

Information on current practices for genebank management of banana was gathered from available literature and websites, as well as from current practices and accumulated experience from laboratories and genebanks holding major banana collections (Bioversity International, IITA, CIRAD and EMBRAPA genebanks). Information on in vitro and cryopreservation was provided by Bioversity International, complemented with extracts from Part I (Refinement & Standardization of Storage Procedures for Clonal Crops) and Part II (Status of In vitro Conservation Technologies for: Andean Root & Tuber crops, Cassava, Musa, Potato, Sweetpotato & Yam) of a three-part document prepared with the consultants E. Benson and K. Harding, as well as the clonal crop experts D. Debouck, D. Dumet, R. Escobar, G. Mafla, B. Panis, A. Panta, D. Tay, I. Van den Houwe and N. Roux. Information was then edited and uploaded onto this website, complemented with relevant photos and revised and validated by the crop experts.

Importance and origin

A selection of banana (Musa) varieties (photo: IITA)


Banana (Musa spp.) is one of the most ancient fruit crops known to and used by man. It originated in Southeast Asia and the Pacific region and is believed to have been first domesticated more than 7000 years ago. East and Central Africa are secondary centres of domestication.

About 150 million tonnes of bananas are harvested annually throughout the tropics (FAOSTAT 2011), but only 15% or so (mainly dessert types) of that production is traded internationally. Most bananas are grown for home consumption or for sale in domestic or regional markets. The cooking types are especially important for food security. East Africa has the highest consumption rates, with up to 1 kg a day per person.


Wild bananas are native to the tropical and sub-tropical forests of Asia and Oceania. They produce inedible fruits that are full of seeds and, like humans, they are diploid, that is they have two complete sets of chromosomes.

More than 50 species of bananas are believed to exist, but two species, Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana, are better known for their role in the domestication of most types of bananas (a distinct group of cultivars, Fe'i bananas, developed independently in the Pacific region). Overall, there are believed to be approximately 1000 varieties of bananas.

A nomenclature system based on morphological characters was developed to group varieties according to the contribution of their wild ancestors, designated by the letter A for acuminata and B for balbisiana. For example, the AA genome group comprises varieties that have two acuminata genomes, while the AAB genome group is for varieties that have one balbisiana genome and two acuminata genomes. Genome groups are further divided into subgroups, which represent varieties that are closely related to each other, or appear to be related.

The main subgroups of dessert bananas are Sucrier (AA), Ney Poovan (AB), Cavendish (AAA), Gros Michel (AAA), Mysore (AAB), Pome (AAB) and Silk (AAB). The main subgroups of cooking bananas are East African Highland Bananas (AAA), Plantain (AAB), Maoli-Popoulu (AAB), Bluggoe (ABB), Saba (ABB) and Pisang Awak (ABB). With a few exceptions, diploid varieties are now rare, having been replaced by the more vigorous and productive triploid varieties.


Cultivar diversity images (Source: Musarama)

Products include chips, dried sweet bananas, beer, wine, juice, baskets and mats from banana fibre, among many others (photos 1,4,6: Bioversity; 2: Z-Corcuerra Food Products; 3: Taless Dry Foods; 5: CREED; 7: La Tunosa Cooperative of Rural Women; 
and 8: Mkondezi Wine group)



The banana is widely known as a sweet fruit to be eaten raw, but many varieties are fried, roasted, juiced, dried or made into chips. The fruit can also be brewed into alcoholic beverages or made into flour by drying and grinding the dried fruits. In certain places, the male inflorescence is eaten as a vegetable.

Other parts of the plant are also used. Throughout the tropics, people exploit the large, smooth banana leaf for wrapping food. Banana leaves are also used for thatching, as umbrellas and plates. Products made from the different parts of the plant are also a much needed source of income. Banana fibre extracted from the stem appears in paper, bank notes, ropes, clothes and baskets. Anything left over can be used as animal feed.


References and further reading

For more information about banana, visit the banana knowledge compendium on the website of the global banana R4D community ProMusa:

For more information about the global network for conservation and use of Musa, visit the MusaNet website:

For more literature on banana, visit the bibliographic database Musalit:

Denham T, De Langhe E, Vrydaghs L. 2009. Special issue: history of banana domestication. Ethnobotany Research and Applications 7:163-164. Articles included in this special issue available from

INIBAP. 2006. Global Conservation Strategy for Musa (Banana and Plantain). Available from: Accessed: 23 March 2010.

Mbida MC, Doutrelepont H, Vrydaghs L, Swennen R, Swennen RJ, Beeckman H, De Langhe E, de Maret P. 2005. The initial history of bananas in Africa. A reply to Jan Vansina, Azania, 2003. Azania XL. The British Institute in Eastern Africa. pp. 128-135.

Mbida MC, Doutrelepont H, Vrydaghs L, Swennen R, Swennen RJ, Beeckman H, De Langhe E, de Maret P. 2004. Yes, there were bananas in Cameroon more than 2000 years ago. Infomusa 13 (1):40-42. Available here.

Ploetz RC, Kepler AK, Daniells J, Nelson SC 2007. Banana and plantain—an overview with emphasis on Pacific island cultivars. Available from: Date accessed: 23 March 2010.

Simmonds NW. 1962. The evolution of the bananas. Tropical Agricultural Series. Longman Scientific and Technical, UK. 170 pp.

Simmonds NW, Shepherd K. 1955. The taxonomy and origins of the cultivated bananas. Journal of the Linnean Society (Bot.), 55 (359):302-312. Abstract available from: Date accessed: 23 March 2010.

Stover RH, Simmonds NW. 1987. Bananas. Tropical Agricultural Series. Longman Scientific and Technical, UK. 468 pp.

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