Banana cultivation is a long tradition for numerous communities in East Africa, growing particularly the robust diploid ‘Mchare’ variety in the Kilimanjaro and the triploid ‘Mutika’ in the Great Lakes region. Since the 1970s, drastic yield declines due to soil degradation and emergent pests and diseases, has led to the disaffection by farmers for traditional varieties. Improved varieties are needed requiring elucidating the genetic origins of these unique bananas.
Perrier et al. show that ‘Mchare’, ‘Mutika’ and other related East African diploids and triploids are connected within the same genetic complex whose primary centre is in Southeast Asia. They also report the likely migration routes into Africa. Identification of the appropriate parents for breeding programs will boost the genetic improvement of East African bananas, but also of other globally important subgroups.