The Malaysia Banana Congress 2021 was held online on 7 – 8 September 2021, after a pre-event workshop on 3 – 6 September. The congress was organized by the Centre for Research in Biotechnology for Agriculture (CEBAR), University of Malaya, Malaysia, with International Tropical Fruits Network (TFNet) was one of its co-organizers. The congress aptly themed ‘Revitalizing the banana industry in Malaysia’ was organized with the aim of providing avenues for researchers in diverse multidisciplinary fields to share their ideas and discuss future strategies. It was also aimed to introduce eminent researchers who can provide collaboration opportunities and to connect the research community with stakeholders of the industry.
The congress successfully gathered over 150 participants representing 11 countries including the USA, Australia, UK, Belgium, Italy, Tanzania, Uganda, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, India and China. There were 40 presentations covering the different areas of breeding and diversity, genetics and fundamental research, pathogenesis and control, banana biotechnology, biomaterials, socioeconomic and community impact of technology.
TFNet advisor Yacob Ahmad was invited as a panel member in the panel discussion which focused on factors to enhance stakeholders’ collaboration on banana research. The discussion was moderated by Prof. Roffina Yasmin Othman, FASc, University Malaya (Malaysia). Other panel members were Prof. Rony Swennen, KU Leuven University, Belgium, Dr. S Uma, Director of Indian Council for Agriculture Research (ICAR-NRCB) India and Dr. Ou Sheng, Assoc. Professor, FTRI, Guangdong Academy of Agricultural Sciences, China. Prof. R. Swennen presented on the breeding work on bananas in Africa, resulting hybrid cultivars and clonal selections that have been recommended for smallholder farmers. The effort has been the result of collaboration of International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), National Agriculture Research Organisation (NARO), Tanzania Agriculture Research Institute (TARI), Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT, Swedish University of Agricultural Science (SLU) and Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. Dr. Uma reiterated that many banana research initiatives in India are collaborations of international network such as Promusa and global organizations such as Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT and IITA. Dr. Ou Sheng said that banana research and network activities in China has been fruitful with collaboration from universities, among others, Stellenborsch University South Africa and University of Massachusetts Amherst plus global organizations such as Promusa and International Tropical Fruits Network.
In his brief, Yacob said that being in a network such as TFNet, it is important to constantly be in touch with members. He reminded that it is also important to understand that countries operate with different capacities on resources, ergo, it is imperative that collaborations be based on a winning formula where all parties involved will benefit. He also expressed his confidence that, the sharing of cultivars among partners and stakeholders, can be conducted through multi-locational trials, especially for cultivars that are resistant to Foc TR4. On advice to young researchers, he echoed that they should be adroit and abreast with developments in their field of research, and at the same time try to get a grasp of other areas that are related to their core focus. Researchers should also be affable, curious, and ‘aggressive’.