You can earn Sh600,000 annually from bananas planted on a quarter acre.
In the right agronomic zone, planting high-yielding varieties of banana will mint more money for you than many other crops — something several farmers in Embu and Meru counties have learned.
Banana farming requires less labour, inputs and capital than most other crops, and its market is wide and readily available.
In fact, bananas are the world’s fourth most important food commodity, after rice, wheat and maize.
According to Mr Antony Gateri, who works with the Kenya Agricultural Productivity and Agribusiness Project (Kapap) in Embu, bananas, especially the ripening varieties, thrive well in areas that are 1,200m and 1,600m above sea level, that get seasonal rainfall averaging 1,200mm, and with average temperatures of 250 Celsius.
“These are areas in coffee, sunflower and macadamia zones. If you go further down in altitude, you may need to do supplemental irrigation during dry seasons,” he says.
Mr Gateri advises farmers planning to venture into serious cultivation of bananas against using old, late maturing varieties and instead go for popular, propagated varieties such as grand naine, cavendins and fia.
These varieties are high yielding, mature early, and are available at satellite banana nurseries in most counties at a cost of Sh100 per stem.
A quarter acre of land can hold 400 banana stems, which will mature in nine to 16 months, depending on the variety.
Bananas require good soil moisture, so the soil needs to be deep and well drained.
It should also be treated to prevent spreading pests and diseases, such as banana weevils and banana bunchy top virus, that could affect the fruit
In highland areas, banana plantations should be terraced to prevent water washing down the topsoil and mulch.
Gateri advises farmers to maintain a maximum of four stems (tubers) per stool, since having too many would increase competition for nutrients, culminating in low-quality produce.
The first harvest would yield 400 banana bunches with an average weight of 40kgs. A kilo of the fruit is sold at Sh15, which means a farmer stands to make Sh240,000 in gross profit.
In subsequent harvests, and where a farmer has maintained four stems per stool, the plot of land would yield 1,600 bunches averaging 40kgs each. At Sh15 per kilo, a farmer stands to make Sh960,000 a year.
Gateri estimates that the total costs, including manure, fertiliser and labour, would average Sh360,000 a year, putting a farmer’s net profit at Sh600,000.
Kapap reports indicate that banana farmers in Embu County earned Sh123 million last year from 8,881 metric tonnes of fresh green bananas that were sold at an average of Sh14 per kilogramme.
Among farmers who have made a fortune from bananas is Mr Francis Mugo, who four years ago grew miraa and coffee on his three-quarter acres, but earned just enough to cover his daily needs.
Mr Mugo ventured into commercial banana farming after attending a seminar in Meru and later training by Kapap. He uprooted his coffee and miraa bushes and replaced them with the fruit.
He intermixes his banana plantation with horticultural crops.
To improve his yield, the farmer has directed slurry from his cattle shed, where he has two dairy cows, to his banana farm.
Mr Gerald Mbogo, a farmer in Mukangu, Embu North, is also engaged in growing tissue-culture bananas. He bought 60 banana plantlets at Sh80 each.
Manure and fertiliser
“I applied manure and fertiliser at planting, and then watered the plantlets with 40 litres of water a week until they matured. They took just one year to mature,” he says.
It is best to plant the fruit at the beginning of the rainy season so that the new plants receive adequate water for quick establishment. Also, consider leaving a one-foot basin when filling each planting hole to help with water harvesting.
Mr Mbogo and other banana farmers in Embu have organised themselves into groups to find market and avoid being exploited by brokers and middlemen.
Mbogo says that in a month, he sells an average 30 banana bunches, weighing between 50 and 60 kilos, at between Sh750 and Sh1,000 each.
Story adapted from The Standard Newspaper