After many years of getting meager returns from coffee, a group of farmers in Kirinyaga County have started growing high-yielding banana variety.
Through funding from the County Government, a banana nursery was set up and growers were trained on how to tender for the crop.
Jane Wangechi from Kimwea in Gichugu Constituency has her three-acre farm under bananas. She used to grow coffee in the same piece of land for years.
Turning to bananas was one of her best decisions, she says. The farmers sell her produce as a group to maximize returns.
“A bunch used to go for Sh.120 but we designed a method where we weigh the bunches,” she said, adding that each kilogram attracts about Sh.15. A bunch weighs between 30 and 35 kilogram’s, making approximately Sh.450 and Sh.525.
Ms. Wangechi is a member of Kimweas group which has 60 members 40 of who are women. There are 206 similar groups in Kirinyaga County although 120 are unregistered.
“We do not have to negotiate with brokers any more. I now make about Sh.700, 000 per year compared to Sh71, 000 I used to realise from coffee,” she said.
“After I cut down my coffee, I planted maize harvesting about 40 bags in the first season. I now have over 3,500 banana plants,” she said.
Sylvester Mbogo, a farmer and a local truck driver said he sells about two tones of bananas per month from his nine-acre farm.
“Banana farming is exciting; I am passionate about what I am doing,” he said, adding that the business is not labour intensive.
Mbogo says the most three preferred varieties of bananas grown from tissue culture which the farmers are growing are grad Nain, Williams and Phie 17.
The farmers are now seeking new markets in the Middle East to increase their returns.
However, availability of water has been their main challenge, says Mbogo. But this is set to be a problem of the past once the group implements an irrigation project.
“We now have a pledge from a donor for a small-scale irrigation scheme of Sh.11 million.
A local Bank has also promised to loan us Sh.11 million. We have raised the 10 percent of the cost Sh. 23 million project,” said Mr Mbogo, adding that on weekly basis, he spends Sh.3, 500 to irrigate his farm during the dry season.
“Farmers from many parts of the County are also thriving from the crop and we are calling on our county government to set up a banana collection centre and a factory to curb post-harvest losses,” he said
Mbogo says that there are many products that can be made from bananas if the farmers can be assisted in harnessing their ideas.
Banana production in Kenya has gradually changed from subsistence to a cash crop as demand rises.
Many farmers, especially smallholders, apart from growing the native varieties have embraced Tissue Culture Banana farming.
Bananas are ranked 4th after rice, wheat and maize as the world’s most valuable crop consumed for their high nutritive value. It is an important crop in Kenya, a key staple food in the region and is a source of income to many households.
Apart from being a staple food, it is also used to make puree, flakes, wine, jam, powder, and beverages.
Kenya is one among the world’s leading countries in terms of banana production with an estimated annual production of 1.1 million metric tons.
On a daily basis, one can easily spot trucks on Kenyan highways ferrying bananas, especially to Nairobi.
The main Counties where Bananas are grown includes; Meru, Tharaka Nithi, Embu, Kirinyaga, Muranga, Kisii and Nyamira.
Despite the sector being a stronghold, it faces a number of challenges that tend to hinder its progression.
Jane Njiru, a farmer from Gathoge says farmers lack access to key inputs such as quality planting materials, fertilizers, pesticides, farm machinery and tools among others.
“Farmers usually have a tendency of obtaining planting root stems from neighbor’s plantations through plucking suckers, the archaic method greatly contributes to spread of pests and diseases,” she said
Njiru said farmers also lack knowledge on the best variety to choose with many opting for the big ones which demand more water and may not do well in certain areas.
By Irungu Mwangi