One person you’d love to meet if you are interested in Cavendish bananas is Cecilia Donaire, a plant breeder from La Ceiba, Honduras who has been in the Philippines for 2.5 years conducting research at Dole Philippines. All in all, however, she has worked for Dole for 22 years working as senior scientist/researcher in Central America.
In the Philippines, she is busy undertaking research on the very promising Cavendish Variant 218 from Taiwan which is proving to be tolerant to the very aggressive Tropical Race 4 (TR4) of Fusarium Wilt disease. Dole Philippines is about the most active among big players in the industry which has been multiplying the Variety 218 through tissue-culture. As of late November 2017, Dr.Estrellieta Aldaba who heads the Dole tissue culture lab said that they have already tissue-cultured 5 milion Variety 218 and they are not stopping.
Cecilia Donaire is conducting research on Variety 218 under low-elevation conditions, mid-elevation and high elevation areas. She would like to find out the performance of the variant Cavendish under different elevations. In the process, she would like to choose and tag individual banana plants with desirable characteristics which could be the source of materials for tissue-culturing.
When we met Cecilia recently at the Dole nursery in Carmen, Davao del Norte, she was so excited to meet Dr. Agustin “Gus” Molina Jr. who, she claims, has been an inspiration for a researcher in the banana industry like her. She said, she had heard and read so much about Dr. Molina in the past and one of her dreams is to meet Dr. Molina in person. That happened on November 21, 2017 when we visited Dole Phiippines together with Dr. Molina. Dr. Molina is the banana expert who worked for 10 years in the biggest banana company in Central America, Chiquita Brand. He subsequently became the regional coordinator for Bioversity International in Asia Pacific. And he was responsible for bringing the Tissue Culture Variant 218 to the Philippines.
Cecilia, by the way, finished a course in agronomy for her bachelor’s degree. She took up her masters at the University of Nebraska in the United States, major in plant breeding.