Landbouwkundig ingenieur, doctor in de landbouwwetenschappen, gewoon hoogleraar aan de faculteit bio-ingenieurswetenschappen KU Leuven.
Biologie, biodiversiteit, landbouwkunde; Latijns-Amerika, Oost- en West-Afrika, Azië

Rony Swennen conducts research on banana and plantain, with special focus on delivering new hybrids or superior landraces to smallholders.

He started the plantain program at IITA in 1979. During his first period at IITA, he set up the banana and plantain in vitro and field collection, conducted agronomical and physiological experiments and started the successful plantain breeding program. That lead to the production and delivery of the very first black sigatoka resistant plantains and the International King Baudouin Award given to IITA. Nigeria issued a postal stamp as a result of his successful breeding of plantain. He also became chief in Nigeria due to his contributions to farmers. The IITA banana and plantain collection was deposited at KU Leuven, which later became the International Transit Centre, now under the auspicien of Bioversity International/CIAT and the United Nations as of 1992. 

In 1990 he became professor at KULeuven and lead the Laboratory of Tropical Crop Improvement until 2020. During that period he managed the banana and plantain in vitro collection and organized that it became part of the CGIAR. His team developed the cryopreservation protocols for banana (and other +30 crops) and developed the first protocols for banana transformation. He leads the IITA banana breeding program since 2013 in Sub Saharan Africa and one plantain hybrid was registered in 2019 in Ivory Coast and four matooke hybrids in Tanzania in 2021. He is the PI two Bill & Melinda Gates (BMGF) projects on banana breeding. His banana breeding program was highlighted as part of the CGIAR@50 campaign .  His work has improved the life of millions of smallholder farmers and was recognized through 6 awards at the global level. He published more than 300 articles in peer reviewed journals and several books.

Key publications

Y. Zorrilla-Fontanesi, L. Pauwels, B. Panis, S. Signorelli, H. Vanderschuren and R. Swennen (2020) Strategies to revise agrosystems and breeding to control Fusarium wilt of banana. Nature Food volume 1, 599–604.  https://doi.org/10.1038/s43016-020-00155-y

Nyine, M., Uwimana, B., Akech, V., Brown, A., Ortiz, R., Doležel, J., Lorenzen, J., and Swennen, R. 2019. Association genetics of bunch weight and its component traits in East African highland banana (Musa spp. AAA group). Theoretical and Applied Genetics, 132(12), 3295-3308. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00122-019-03425-x.

Janssens, S.B., Vandelook, F., De Langhe, E., Verstraete, B., Smets, E., Van den houwe, I., and Swennen, R. 2016. Evolutionary dynamics and biogeography of Musaceae reveal a correlation between the diversification of the banana family and the geological and climatic history of Southeast Asia. New Phytologist, 210(4), 1453-1465. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/nph.13856.

Hoelscher, D., Suganthagunthalam, D., Alexandrov, T., Becker, M., Bretschneider, T., Buerkert, A., Crecelius, A.C., De Waele, D., Elsen, A., Heckel, D.G., Heklau, H., Hertweck, C., Kai, M., Knop, K., Krafft, C., Maddula, R.K., Matthäus, C., Popp, J., Schneider, B., Schubert, U.S., Sikora, R.A., Svatos, A., and Swennen, R. 2014. Phenalenone-type phytoalexins mediate resistance of banana plants (Musa spp.) to the burrowing nematode Radopholus similis. PNAS, 111(1), 105-110. http://www.pnas.org/content/111/1/105.

Ortiz, R., and Swennen, R. 2014. From crossbreeding to biotechnology-facilitated improvement of banana and plantain. Biotechnology Advances, 32, 158-169. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biotechadv.2013.09.010.