BANANA FARMING in Kenya, rise to a cash crop

BANANA FARMING in Kenya, rise to a cash crop

By Steven Mulanda

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 Africa, a key staple food in the region and is a source of income to many households. Apart from being a staple food, it 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. Jackline Kemunto a banana farmer in Kisii County avers that the crop is one of the best known food crops in the region. Women in her locality use bananas to diversify the types of food consumed in their homes.

“Apart from its value as a food crop in Kisii, sales from banana production provide the much-needed income. There is a large and rapidly growing market for bananas due to the surging population as well as changing consumption habits and lifestyle,” she said.

Despite the sector being a stronghold, it faces a number of challenges that tend to hinder its progression. Jane Njeri a farmer from Gatundu says that brokers are to blame for the low prices they sell their bananas.

“We lack ready market for our bananas and the middle men usually take advantage of the situation to give us low prices while they themselves sell at better prices sometimes triple the buying price,” she lamented.

In addition, 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.

This archaic method has greatly contributed to spread of pests and diseases. More, farmers lack knowledge on the best variety to choose. Most opt for the big ones which demand more water and may not do well in certain areas.

Introducing, developing and promoting pest and disease resistant varieties and use of IPM technologies are the best options in developing bananas in Kenya.

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