Miraa Farmer Finding More Fortune in Banana Farming

Miraa Farmer Finding More Fortune in Banana Farming

Every great dream begins with the dreamer embracing the opportunity and harnessing it into something worthwhile for a better tomorrow. Thomas Mutugi of South Ngariama is one man who seems to have mastered the art of farming at a teenage age. He fell in love with farming while in class two; planting arrowroots around their tap water at home, where he had also introduced a few fingerlings from boys’ fishing adventures to small ponds in the arrowroot garden.

His escapades in farming transitioned to growing sugarcanes and tomatoes while at high school, which he planted on a quarter acre piece of land. By the time he was completing high school he had managed to garner Kshs 37,000 from the farming and bought a plot at Kagumo town. He later laid his hands on cultivation of courgettes and other vegetables.

“After high school I proceeded to college where I sharpened my skills in farming, studying animal husbandry and general agriculture. I had a small stint working as veterinary officer interacting with people and even ended up being elected to the municipal council of Kirinyaga as a councilor. I later started farming Khat; localy known as Miraa, Muguka variety, becoming one of the largest producer in the region. This was after discovering that a person with two bundles of khat would sell the same amount I was selling a sack of kales at the market,” he said.

While farming Muguka his neighbor Susan Kasarani was attracted to cultivation of the crop where she approached him to learn the dynamics involved in cultivating it but her husband strong Christian background prevailed upon her and she began cultivating bananas.

“She introduced me to banana farming but I was a little bit hesitant. In the course of her cultivation, she challenged me that out of his 40 acres’ banana plantation she had managed to make Ksh 60 million. I was gobsmacked because I had almost 12 acres of Miraa and I had generated Ksh 8 million that same year. I did my research about banana cultivation, where to get quality seedlings and embarked on their planting in 2020. My research took me to an Israeli company that was propagating the seedlings in Kenya using the Israeli modern methods of propagating making seedlings of more quality and they produce in a shorter period of time. The company is based in Naivasha,” he explained.

Currently, the farm grows 3 varieties of bananas; Grand nine, Williams and Plantain. With all the information at his finger tips he begun growing 8,000 seedlings on his 20-acre piece of land. Due to the huge size of land, he used an excavator to dig the holes for planting the crop. He is a savvy man, after the excavator had dug the holes and heaped the soil on sides; he was advised to plant cassavas on the side soil. Cassava’s are drought resistant and thrive well on soils that are not very arable like the one excavated and they grow extremely fast forming a canopy thus providing a good shade to the young growing banana seedlings.

It is harvest time at his farm and the buyer is readily harvesting the crop. Mutugi anticipates to harvest close to 5 tones this second harvest, with a kilo retailing at Ksh 16.
The production of good quality bananas fit for the market is dependent on various factors including feeding the crop with enough manure and water. For his case, he sources water from nearby River Rupingaci he has also dug four dams to save him pumping diesel and has reared livestock to supplement him with farmyard manure though he still sources out for more.

Weeding before the plantation forms a canopy is the main challenge he has encountered. Application of herbicides, he realized was not good because it negatively affected the crop. Another challenge he has encountered is that in his farm there are some areas with murram soil and others are waterlogged making the crop to retard. To overcome the challenge, he has added more farmyard manure to the murram soil while the dams are dug in the water logged areas to drain water. “During the rainy seasons, wind blows toppling bananas. Supporting them is quite expensive because buying the wood attracts extra cost but the rest of the activities are easily manageable,” he stated.

Exporting of Kenya’s bananas is gaining momentum with the Kenyan government and that of the South Korean having signed a bilateral agreement for the country to export unripe bananas and broccoli in 2018. In spite of the offer, by April 2021 the volume being exported was still dismally small, even though these products are not requiring Pest Risk Analysis (PRA).
“I sell my produce to Twiga Foods; with the opening of the Korean Market, we banana farmers are optimistic of influx of more buyers coming to purchase the produce thus raising the price to the gain of the farmer. I am saying this because I have witnessed my buyer raising price thus indicating improvement of the market.

In the recent past, there has been an overproduction of bananas which was occasioned by good weather and emergence of Corvid 19, resulting in a market glut thus led to plummeting of the prices. For instance, in 2015, the crop used to trade at Ksh 30 per kilo but as it stands now, we are selling between Ksh16 and Ksh 20. This is an improvement since eatery places and schools which consumes many bananas are in operation, “Thomas explained.

Going forward, the other promising venture he is considering to pursue, is expanding his dairy farming and value addition of his produce. He intends to visit a group in Gichugu that is extracting banana wine for information. Other options he is weighing are floriculture and snail farming.

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