Farmers urged to embrace tissue culture bananas

Despite the introduction of high yielding and disease resistant laboratory raised plantlets, farmers in banana producing areas in the country rely on old low producing suckers.

In other areas like Kisii, which is common with cooking varieties, bananas are grown alongside other food crops.

The cost of plantain, commonly known as matoke, remains high in urban centres, making it hard for bigger families to leave the fruit to children at weaning stage.

But most restaurants have not shied away from the high prices (KSh1000 or more in Nairobi and Mombasa for a 40Kg bunch).

Laboratory-raised planting materials, also known as tissue culture (TC) plantlets,  give better yields in addition to quick maturity that suckers.

James Kamanga, a farmer and consultant who has been in the TC industry for more than 10 years, says the production of matoke can be increased tremendously using TC materials, which are free of diseases and pests.

A TC banana can produce about 30kg on first harvest stock with subsequent ones ranging from 50kg to 160kg. They take a maximum of 12 months to mature, unlike regular banner suckers which may take up to 18 months.

“I have worked in areas where farmers are adopting TC (tissue culture) such as Muranga, Kirinyaga, Meru , Nyeri, Embu , Kiambu and Kisii. But the uptake is not translating to more produce that we can even export. this means more others are still using suckers,” Kamanga says.

READ ALSO: Green pepper saving East Africa's bananas

TC laboratories in Kenya include Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO), Genetic Technologies Limited, Oserian, Mimea Limited, China Hort, among others.

To cover one acre, a farmer requires between KSh100,000 and KSh150,000-plantlets costing between KSh60 and KSh120 depending on the variety and region. 

"The acre will hold between 450 – 540 plantlets depending on the spacing. A spacing of 2.5m by 3m allows for 450 plantlets per acre while a spacing of 3mby 3m allows for 540 meters,” said Kamanga.

Many a time, bananas do not have specific productivity season, a characteristic that makes them a suitable complement for ugali, which has remained the staple food for more than 80 per cent of Kenyans.

With regions in Central Kenya having adopted more the TC species, ripe bananas, which are available almost all round the year.

Cooking varieties remain way below the supply, with three small fruits selling at about KSh20 and KSh30 at various groceries in Nairobi and Mombasa.

According to KALRO, these planting materials are as a result of vegetative propagation in laboratories, which takes five months. They are transfered to an outside greenhouse for hardening before selling to farmers.

Varieties are classified as dessert, cooking and dual. Dual varieties, as the name suggests, can be used either as dessert or for cooking delicacy.

Desserts include Grand Naine, Williams , Chinese Cavendish , Giant Cavendish,  among others.

Cooking varieties include Ngombe , Nusu Ngombe, Uganda Green, among others. FHIA 17 is an example of a dual variety.

Export 

Africa banana exports in 2012 was 649,000 tonnes, accounting for only 3.9 per cent of global export. Ivory Coast was Africa’s largest exporter in the same year having 2012 shipped 339,000 tonnes (more than Africa's total).

Cameroon, was second after exporting 246,000 tonnes. The balance, 64,000 tonnes, were shared out amongst all other countries.

In Kenya, plantain is mostly grown in Kisii although most farmers grow it supplementary  alongside other common food crops like maize.