With its yield nine times that of an ordinary banana stalk, the tissue culture banana has changed the fortunes of over half a million Kenyans scattered all over Kenya since its gradual introduction to Kenya’s small-scale farmers in the late 1990s.
This species, if well tended, “guarantees a farmer can harvest 80 percent of the establishment” said Jane Ndiritu, Program Assistant at Africa Harvest, an NGO championing the use of science to improve
agricultural productivity in Africa.
In addition to improving food security in many communities around Kenya, “the good thing about bananas is they can grow anywhere in the country,” said Jane. The tissue banana specie is genetically modified making it resistant to nematodes, weevils, bacterial wilt and banana pest, according to James Gacheru, the banana specialist at Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI).
Within 12 to 14 months of planting a farmer can harvest a healthy productive stalk with disease free fingers. “Other local breeds take two years before harvesting,” said Gacheru. On maturity, a well tended healthy stalk can be up to five feet long.
One farmer whose fortunes have improved since he began cultivating the banana is Julius Wainana of Sabasaba Maragua. In 2000, he quit his truck driving job and began with 300 tissue culture plantlets on his half acre piece of land. Today he owns a pick up and has bought another piece of land from the proceeds of growing the bananas on half an acre.
A farmer with an acre can start with 540 banana plantlets, each costing around 100shs. If at first harvest, 480 are ready each stalk will deliver bananas weighing 30kgs, with a kilogram at the market typically fetching Sh10.
The proceeds sum Sh144,000, but the 10shs and 30kilograms estimates are probably under-estimates, said Jane Ndiritu. When the market is good a kilogram can fetch as much as Sh17 and a stalk can weigh more in upwards of 35 kilograms.
However, expenses in the first year are higher than later. “They decrease after the second harvest,” said Jane. In places where it’s arid or semi-arid banana plantlets require 20 litres of water weekly. Drip irrigation is the most viable method to irrigate and for an acre its equipment costs Sh100,000.
According to Gacheru, KARI’s irrigation department offers advice on drip irrigation where rains might be scarce, in addition to providing irrigation equipment.
To guarantee maximum yield at harvest time, some expertise in tending is also needed to ensure all the plantlets get equal amounts of sun, nutrients and water. This, according to Jane, ensures consistent uniform growth, maturity and harvest of the bananas.
Places where tissue culture banana initiative has taken off include parts of Thika, and areas in Meru including Tigania, Kirinyaga, Maragua and Muranga, where farmers harvest them in bulk and take them to bulking centres for weighing. Technoserve Kenya is an organisation that has created market linkages to these small-scale farmers in groups of 50 to 100 by bringing buyers to bulking centres. Also “We train them in record keeping and negotiations,” said Maureen Macharia of Technoserve Kenya.
At the end of last year, the National Banana Association was formed to promote solid policies to cater for the interests of small and large scale banana growing farmers, processors and marketers, whilst also encouraging banana consumption in every household.
For More information Africa Harvest, KARI and TechnoServe, Visit:
Written By James Karuga for African Laughter
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