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Hope for African banana farmers

afrol News, 4 July - Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's commitment to grant US $74,000 to sponsor the planned pan-African banana conference in Kenya's coastal city of Mombasa is a blessing for African banana farmers.

The conference, scheduled from 5-9 October 2008, will develop a 10-year research development strategy which aims to stimulate trade and boost the growth of the banana industry across Africa. It is being organised by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in partnership with Bioversity International, the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa, the International Society for Horticultural Science and the Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute.

This will be the first-ever event that links state-of-the-art research to new markets and allow researchers, major industry players and farmers’ groups to exchange ideas.

Bananas, which provide food security, nutrition and livelihood for millions of smallholder farmers, are among the most important food and staple crops in Africa. In the Great Lakes area of East Africa alone, the crop is worth some US$ 1.7 billion annually to 14 million resource-poor farmers.

The watershed event seeks to link research, production, and marketing needs to support banana production and trade growth in Africa. It will also focus on the role of research and the importance of public-private sector partnerships.

The foundation's package will be used to support the participation of Africa-based farmer groups, cooperatives and entrepreneurs at the conference where they will have the opportunity to present their products and services at stands and booths.

Exposes will on disease control, seed improvement and the development of local and regional markets of banana will be highlighted.

“The support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for this conference is a major indication of the importance with which this conference is being viewed for its benefit to Africa,” said Dr. Thomas Dubois, Coordinator of the Banana Conference 2008.

“The funding will make attendance possible for up to 50 small farmers and regional entrepreneurs, giving them a chance to showcase their products and services.”

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Agricultural Development initiative is working with a wide range of partners to provide millions of small farmers in the developing world with tools and opportunities to boost their productivity, increase their incomes, and build better lives for themselves and their families. It invests in efforts across the agricultural value chain - from seeds and soil to farm management and market access. The foundation also supports data collection, research, and policy analysis.

“We are eager to support opportunities to listen to the small scale farmers we are trying to serve,” said Dr. Rajiv Shah, Director of Agricultural Development at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “This conference presents an opportunity for small banana farmers and entrepreneurs to forge links that will support their ability to increase yields and incomes - a critical step so they can lead healthy and productive lives.”

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