MAMA SITA BANANA: How a PH scientist discovered it in Bangkok

A big bunch of Mama
Sita banana.
Muffins made of Mama Sita banana

THE MAMA SITA banana is now well accepted by farmers, consumers for a number of good reasons. For farmers, it is well adapted to local growing conditions. It has a stocky trunk that makes it resistant to strong wind. It produces fruit a few months earlier than Saba variety. It has been observed to be resistant to diseases that now affect other varieties in the Philippines.

LIKED BY CONSUMERS – As a consumer, we personally like the taste of the ripe fruit. When it is fully ripe, the skin becomes very thin and the flesh is very sweet. We love the banana shake from ripe Mama Sita. Our friend, Dr. Ronaldo Sumaoang of Tarlac who planted a couple of hectares to this variety reports that local women micro-entrepreneurs buy his fruits for making banana-cue.Other people report that Mama Sita is good for making banana chips.

RENAMED – Mama Sita banana originally came from Thailand where it is known as Namwa-Tiey. It was brought into the country by the late Dr. Benito S. Vergara, then a retired IRRI scientist who volunteered as implementer of a research project that searched for varieties of fruit trees and spices that could be produced commercially in the Philippines for both the local and foreign markets. The project was initiated by Ramon Magsaysay Jr. who was then a Senator in 2007.

FUNDERS – For the sake of easier name recall, Dr. Vergara renamed the Thai banana Mama Sita. Mama Sita is the mother of the chair of Mama Sita Foundation which provided  some of the funds for the project. The other funders are two government agencies through the help of Sen. Magsaysay. The two government agencies which gave P1 million each are the Philippine Council For Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development, and the Bureau of Agricultural Research of the Department of Agriculture.

FORMER STUDENT – Dr. Vergara got interested in the Namwan Tiey when he saw in 2007 a dwarf banana with a stocky pseudostem in the house of his former student at UP Los Baños. He asked permission to have the banana tissue-cultured in Bangkok so he could bring the seedlings to the Philippines ready for planting. 

BEARS EARLIER – In February 2008, Dr Vergara brought home 800 seedlings. There was not enough space for planting all the seedlings so many were left unplanted. Later, a new place was available and the 4-month-old seedlings were panted in the field. Nine months later, the bananas which were dwarf started to flower, four months earlier than the usual number of days it takes the Saba banana to bear flower.

SALES SURGE – After we featured Mama Sita in our column in Manila Bulletin, demand for planting materials surged so Dr. Vergara had it tissue-cultured in Los Baños to meet the demand.

PROVES WORTH  Mama Sita had proven its worth. In July 2010, UPLB started a field trial of 18 banana cultivars. In that project, Mama Sita was not affected by Moko disease, bunchy top and fusarium fungus while most others were affected. When Typhoon Bebeng hit southern Laguna in May 2011, most of the banana plants were destroyed by the typhoon. Fortunately, not a single plant of Mama Sita banana was down, according to Dr. Vergara in his terminal report of the research project.

PERSONAL OBSERVATIONS – We also have our personal experience about Mama Sita banana. It tends to be short-statured if the soil is clayey and not fertilized. The bunch is also rather short. However, when it is planted in rich loamy soil, it can grow tall and the bunch could be large and the individual fruits plump. 

SALEABLE SUCKERS – The plant produces a lot of suckers and it can also be a source of income. Our first plant produced 12 suckers in the first year. The trick is to remove the suckers once they are 2.5 feet tall so that more suckers will develop.

LIMITED SPACE – We just have a few Mama Sita in our small farm because we grow so many other things. But up to now, we make money from selling the suckers. The fruits are for home consumption. I love to eat the fresh ripe fruit as well as the banana shake my cook makes. My daughter, on the other hand, makes banana cake out of Mama Sita fruits.

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