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Water requirements of Musa spp.: development of an AquaCrop model to adress water stress in banana-based cropping systems


The doctoral research consists of the development and validation of an AquaCrop model for banana plants (Musa spp.). AquaCrop is a computer simulation model developed by the Land and Water Division of the FAO which estimates biomass production and crop yield responses to water in the root zone of many crops, but not yet of Musa sp.. AquaCrop can be used to benchmark current irrigation practices (determine the yield gap), determine seasonal water requirements, evaluate strategies that increase water availability to the crop, determine optimal planting dates and evaluate seasonal (deficit) irrigation programs. It can even assess the impact of future climate predictions on production. The development of such a model thus has major opportunities for both commercial plantations and smallholder farms given the economic importance of bananas and the detrimental effects of water stress on production.

The general hypothesis is that banana production in drought-prone environments can be increased through an integrated approach which consists of:

(i)               studying current, local water management techniques and testing of promising, low-cost water harvesting structures and techniques to guide more water to the                           plants’ roots

(ii)              determine the sensitivity of banana yield to drought stress in different development stages

(iii)             developing an AquaCrop computer simulation model to predict the banana yield response to soil water and ultimately

(iv)             using this model to evaluate strategies to limit water stress and the accompanied yield losses in banana plantations

As the core of this project consists of a modelling approach which is generic, the resulting AquaCrop model and its outputs can be used for all banana-producing regions worldwide. To gather the necessary input to calibrate and validate AquaCrop we selected the Upper-Pangani basin in northern Tanzania as main research location. There are several reasons to select the Upper-Pangani basin: (i) the central role of bananas in its farming systems, (ii) the presence of Mt. Meru, whose slopes span a wide variety of agro-ecological zones over a short distance, and (iii) the presence of internationally acclaimed research centers and academic institutions which can provide technical, academic and practical support.

The research is carried out in close collaboration with the Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology (NM-AIST) as it fits perfectly in the current VLIR-project “Sustainable management of soil and water for the improvement of livelihoods in the Upper Pangani Basin”. A first project of this VLIR-project focusses on improving agricultural productivity through soil management and banana- bean intercropping, whereas a second project focusses on a better understanding of ecological and hydrological processes in the region to come to a more sustainable integrated water management. This research would combine the two as we strive for a better agricultural productivity (better water use efficiencies) through a more sustainable water management. Pooling all the existing knowledge of the VLIR-project, and complementing it with own research allows for a rapid and thorough understanding of the region and its water use, and will result in integrated management options that vastly improve the water use efficiency of banana-production.

Intervention type

VLADOC PhD Scholarships


31/12/2016 - 31/01/2020

This project is being implemented in:
Flemish supervisor Rony Swennen
Local supervisor Patrick Ndakidemi
Local partner institution KU Leuven
visit www.kuleuven.be
Local partner institution Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology
Budget € 133.051
Scholar Bert Stevens