Tribute to Musa taxonomist Edmond de Langhe (1929-2023)

MusaNet regrets the passing of Prof. Edmond de Langhe, a world class Musa taxonomist and founding member of MusaNet, serving as co-chair of the Diversity Thematic Group and on the Executive Committee as well as in the Taxonomic Advisory Group.

The following tribute was written by MusaNet members Bart Panis and Rony Swennen:

Edmond was born in Likasi, DR Congo, in 1929 where he grew up and which was most probably the reason for his devotion to bananas and plantains. He obtained his masters degree in agronomy in 1952 at Ghent University, Belgium. From 1954 till 1961 he was a scientist in Yangambi, DR Congo where he set up the plantain program conducting research in plantain taxonomy, breeding and agronomy. That was also the time when he set up the Musa collection in Yangambi and the basis for his world class knowledge on the taxonomy of Musa. He named the famous banana variety “Yangambi Km 5”. He obtained his PhD at Ghent university in 1963 on “parthenocarpy in plantains”.  This was the basis for the classification of plantains. From 1963-1979 he was lecturer at Ghent university and visiting lecturer to Wageningen university, the Netherlands. In 1979 he became Professor at KU Leuven university where he was teaching courses in plant physiology, biochemistry, climatology, plant production, farming systems, and tissue culture. Moreover, he started from scratch the Laboratory of Tropical Crop Improvement and initiated in the 1980s pioneering research on in vitro propagation, cryopreservation and cell suspension work. He became professor emeritus in 1990.

From 1972 till 1985, he was the Belgian representative at the CGIAR Headquarters and made sure that the research agenda and thus Belgian funds were focusing on Africa.

From 1976 to 1981, he was Chairman of the International Association for Research on Plantains and other Cooking Bananas (IARPCB) and created the journal Paradisiaca. From 1978 to 1987 he was member of the Board of Trustees of the International Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (IBPGR, which was later renamed Bioversity International). He was member of the Board of Trustees of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and put plantain and banana research into the research agenda of IITA. He will be mostly remembered as the Founding Director of the International Network for the Improvement of Banana and plantain (INIBAP) from 1985 to 1992. During his tenure, he created Musa research networks in Latin America, Africa and Asia laying the foundation for investment in banana by banana growing countries.

He has authored many papers and book chapters on Musa taxonomy, tissue culture, agronomy and prehistory (incl. linguistics and archaeology) because he had a deep understanding of Bantu languages.

Edmond will be remembered as an innovative, passionate and sharp researcher who was able to inspire his collaborators to make achievements they never thought were possible, pushing the boundaries of their potential.