Banana farmers in Kisii have appealed to the County government to fast track completion of a local banana factory whose construction was commissioned one year ago in a bid to cushion them against exploitative middlemen.
The farmers, who were supplied with banana seeds towards end of the year 2018 said the crop is already mature and they are forced to sell through the same brokers they were supposed to avoid, instead of supplying their produce to the factory for value addition.
Peter Moochi Obiri from Eminwa Sub-location in Bobasi constituency said his 500 stools of bananas in a 1.4 acre of land are tissue culture breed, which were supplied by the county government in anticipation for value addition at the factory.
He explained the crop is all ready for harvest including cooking variety like Ng’ombe and Uganda green, and non-cooking variety like Williams, fiah 17 and fiah 18.
However, Obiri said he is worried over invasion of the banana market by brokers whom he blamed for poor market prices, with a bunch of the commodity going for
between Sh200 to Sh300 instead of more than double the price as is the case in other markets outside the county.
The banana farmer who practices mixed farming in his 11 acres land expressed fear that he could undergo great losses now that some of his bunches of the crop weigh up to 65 kilogramme although some are smaller weighing between 32-35 kilogrammes.
Meanwhile, the high cost of transport during the Covid-19 pandemic has just made matters worse for the farmers following closure of open air markets which could have offered a reprieve as they could transport to major marketplaces outside the county.
According to another farmer, Rachael Nyagechanga from Kiobegi Sub location in Masige East ward, the farmers are left with no choice but to sell to local buyers and some to neighboring counties when opportunity offers itself.
She also lamented over lack of market or collection centre where the perishable produce could be preserved awaiting buyers.
On his part, Bobasi Sub county Agricultural officer Albert Timu explained that bananas were the major food crop in the area covering 910 hectares with a total of 30,000 tons per year.
According to Timu, the produce is mainly sold to major towns in the country including Nakuru, Nairobi and Mombasa through middlemen who collect the supplies by the road side at Nyamache, Igare and Itumbe using trucks.
Timu said the factory construction was complete but was yet to be installed with machinery for purposes of value addition to the commodity, so that it can attract higher profits for farmers.
He said 50 farmers from eight wards were trained in agronomy and group dynamics before they were issued with seed in anticipation for the factory, but are currently forced to seek other markets.
He said conducive climate and good soils in the area had contributed to the bumper harvest but the factory is expected to boost it by between 36,000 and 45,000 tons per year.
The agricultural officer appealed to the relevant authorities to move fast tract installation of machinery at the new factory for local farmers to exploit their full potential and reap maximum benefits.
The banana project which is said to be 70% complete was mooted through the EU to strengthen the crop value chain under the Instruments for Devolution Advice and Support (IDEAS-Kenya) programme and the Kisii county government.
The EU granted Sh110 million for the banana value chain project, while the county government added Sh60million to establish the factory at a site within the Kisii Agriculture Training Centre land.
The project is also supposed to offer capacity building for farmers, agriculture extension officers and supply of high-quality commercial banana variety suckers to enhance production.
Kisii is well known in the area for its banana production and the project targets over 11, 000 farmers who are supposed to be trained on the best practices in banana production to support the industry.
By Jane Naitore and Clinton Nyamumbo