Evaluating farmers' and consumers' acceptance of new cooking banana hybrids in Uganda : micro-economic analysis and policy implications.
Banana is an important world food crop supporting the food security and livelihoods of millions of smallholders in tropical countries of Africa, including Uganda. Despite the crop‟s importance in Uganda, its productivity has been declining over time due to pests (banana weevils and nematodes), diseases (black Sigatoka, banana bacterial wilt), soil fertility decline, and socio-economic constraints (high costs of managing the crop, competition for labour with other enterprises, marketing difficulties and low genetic diversity, among others). The decline in banana yields has resulted in food shortages, thus putting consumers heavily dependent on banana at risk of food insecurity, particularly in most rural areas of Uganda where the crop is regarded a staple food. In response to this trend, the National Banana Research Programme (NBRP) in Uganda initiated a breeding programme in 1994 using a participatory plant breeding approach. The programme has so far developed four new banana 'matooke' hybrid varieties (M2, M9, M14, and M17). These varieties have been under evaluation in different agro-ecological regions of Uganda since 2008 with Mbwazirume (a traditional variety) as a local check. Despite the research and extension efforts to popularise these hybrids in Uganda, to date, no attempt had been made to document consumer acceptance and the likelihood of farmer adoption of these hybrid bananas. Little is known about the socioeconomic factors that influence farmers‟ early-stage adoption of the banana hybrids, farmers‟ preferences of the varieties, consumers‟ willingness to purchase the bananas of the hybrids when found on the market, and the likelihood of these hybrid varieties contributing to solving rural household food insecurity and low incomes. Given this context, the objectives of this study were to: (i) analyse farmers‟ preferences regarding varietal attributes and assess how these preferences, along with farm and farmer specific characteristics, determine the variations in the levels of early stage adoption of hybrid banana varieties in Uganda with the application of factor analysis and a Zero-Inflated Poisson (ZIP) regression model; (ii) analyse the effects of farmer characteristics, variety attributes and agro-ecological conditions on banana variety choice in Uganda, with the application of a multinomial logit model; and (iii) determine the consumption characteristics and sensory attributes that are most important in predicting the likelihood of consumers‟ iv purchase of hybrid banana varieties using binary logit models. The research focused on four regions of Uganda (namely, Mid-Western, Central, Western and Eastern) representing six major agro-ecological zones, including the Lake Albert crescent area, Lake Victoria crescent, Western highlands, Southern highlands, South-east and Eastern agro-ecologies where the National Banana Research Programme of the National Agricultural Research Organisation is evaluating the new hybrid banana varieties. The data were collected from 454 farmers that included participating (149) and non-participating (305) respondents, and 908 consumers that participated in farmer field days to evaluate various hybrid banana varieties from across the four regions of Uganda. The results show that, compared to Mbwazirume, four of the hybrids (M2,M9,M14 and M17) are preferred in terms of production characteristics (resistance to Sigatoka, weevils, nematodes, tolerance to poor soils, good bunch size, and sucker production) but are regarded as inferior in terms of consumption characteristics (taste, colour when cooked, and flavour). Field observations suggest that farmers‟ preferences for production attributes dominate in their variety choice decisions. The hybrid M9 is regarded as having a relatively good performance with respect to most of the production and consumption characteristics. The results suggest that land constraint, taste and regional location (central region compared with eastern region) were negatively associated with hybrid variety choice while perceptions that hybrid bananas could reduce food insecurity and enhance tolerance to pests and diseases were positively associated with probabilities of hybrid variety choice. Probabilities of choosing hybrids for food security increase in favour of M2 (by 0.06) and M9 (by 0.28), and decrease for M2 (by 0.23), M9 (by 0.07) and M14 (by 0.09) due to unfavourable taste relative to Mbwazirume. Among the consumers, the study suggests that hybrids M2 and M9 were not significantly (P>0.05) different in terms of taste, flavour, texture and colour, while differences were observed between M14 and M17 when introduced on the market. Hybrid M14 is regarded as better than M17 in terms of taste, flavour and texture. The results show that the Eastern region would pay significantly higher prices for the hybrid varieties compared to other regions of Uganda. This result could be attributed to the limited availability of cooking banana varieties in this region. The results suggest that age, education, good taste, flavour and texture were the most important factors that are likely to positively influence the purchase of most of the hybrid banana varieties.
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