UB Central Farm Delivers on Trial Plot of Authentic Belizean Bananas

Belize’s bananas are said to be some of the best on the market. They have a high demand in Europe and right here at home they make for healthy and tasty snack. And while the bananas are in planted in our soil, the little plants or meristems, as they are called, are actually not from Belize. They are imported from Costa Rica or Honduras. But the UB through its agriculture school at the Central Farm Campus is hoping to change that. They received over one hundred and sixty thousand US dollars through a project with the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture and the European Union to upgrade laboratory facilities to grow these meristems. Well, good news is UB has successfully done so and those meristems developed in lab were move to a nursery and a small number planted on two farms.  It is a historic moment for the industry and so on Monday, reporter Andrea Polanco went to Sagitun Farm to check out just how these banana plants compare to the imported ones. 

Andrea Polanco, Reporting

This is farm eight – a part of the Sagitun banana farm owned by Tony Zabaneh who has been in the banana business for almost fifty years. And among the plots of thousands of these banana plants are two special acres of bananas. This particular crop was planted in July of last year.  If you look closely and compare this plot to others on the farm – it is very likely that you won’t see any major physical differences – but these three hundred and thirty-seven plants mark a historic achievement in the history of Belize’s banana industry and that is because these plants  are fully grown in Belize. These are just shy of a week or two to be harvested – and industry expert and chairman of the Banana Growers Association Tony Zabaneh says he is impressed.

Tony Zabaneh, Chairman, Banana Growers Association

“I must need say that comparatively with the Galiltec that we import from Honduras, we did a neighboring sample of two acres of Galiltec and two acres of the UB Bananas. Very little difference right now and this is the first stem that is produced from UB.  With the UB bananas, to me they have impressed me because they didn’t get the right seed material to start their nurseries and give me this type of stem. Comparing this with right down the road where I have another two acres of the imported banana – it is little difference. In fact, these produce before those; two weeks before. But again, these produce a hand or two less than those. Having a little stem like this that will give me close to a box of bananas, I could see us keeping our money at home.”

Last year, the team at UB Central Farm Campus took donor plants from the industry and put them through a process called micro propagation. It’s where the stock is rapidly multiplied to produce a large number of small plants in a laboratory. Zoe Zetina of UB explains that while this plot is comparable to the imported varieties, they weren’t as selective in the mother plants. And so they expect to have better quality the next time around.

Zoe Roberson-Zetina, Agro-business Lecturer, UB

“Trying to make sure that we maintain quality of the original banana plants. So, what you are seeing here is the result of that. So, in Central Farm we micro propagate and then hardened and the Banana Growers Association plated them here on the farm. As you can see or might have seen, there isn’t much difference between the banana plants that micro-propagated in UB Central Farm and those that were imported from Galiltec in Honduras. One of the limitations that we had was that at the start of the process, we didn’t collect the best donor plants. So, you might have heard that our plants are doing a little less well than the Galiltec plants and that has to do with the donor plants that we collected.”

So, this two acre plot is a test to see how these plants that were that were micro-propagated in Belize stack up against the imported ones. They were planted the same time and under same conditions. The UB Central Farm received funding through a project with the Inter-American Institute of Cooperation on Agriculture. More than two hundred thousand dollars invested in this lab to help make this a reality for the banana industry.

Jeffy Gomez, Project Coordinator

“We want to evaluate the varieties of the meristems and where they come from. Basically we have two varieties in this demonstration plot. We have granine and Williams but basically they come from two lab – UB and Galiltec tissue culture lab from Honduras. Here we are celebrating a success story because here we will harvest next week the first bunches of bananas which are totally made in Belize.”

And while the these plants may not have come from superior stock –  after banana farm manager Danny Salguero inspected them he satisfied with what he has seen and expects to plant some on the farm he manages.

Danny Salguero, Manager, Farm 23

“I have been telling the co-workers who are here that I am very impressed to see that national plants are developing so good. I am not just looking at the plant itself, but I am looking after the fruit. It looks very good quality; high quality and I don’t see any difference between plants that come from laboratories from Costa Rice or Honduras in terms of the plant condition. I think Belize is able to do it and I hope that they continue doing it.”

Andrea Polanco

“As a farm manager, do you think the owner would be interested eventually if UB is able to supply to have some of the plants that are here?”

Danny Salguero

“This morning I sent him a text saying that I would like to try five thousand plants at the farm. He is Belizean so of course he would like to work together with the University and to show the world that Belize is able to produce good and high quality plants.”

And so today, Monday, farmers and representatives of the Belize Growers Association are touring farm eight to see the bananas for themselves. Gomez says that while this is only a test – it sends a strong and positive message for the industry.

Jeffy Gomez

“This has been shown to the farmers that it’s workable and we can minimize the risk of disease within the industry. And we can minimize logistics because all banana plants are imported for it to be grown in Belize and so they can obtain it from UB micro-propagation lab and minimize all the logistics of importing, BAHA inspections, port fees and so the cost is minimized also.”

Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.

We’ll have more from UB, IICA and the Belize Banana Growers Association in part two of the report on Wednesday night.

Channel 5