Banana canopies lead to better coffee crops

Farmers in coffee-growing Kericho area are growing bananas with coffee, in a practice now been hailed by scientists as key to protecting coffee from climate change, and raising coffee yields, at a time when temperatures are projected to rise between 3 to 4 degrees in the next  decade.

Farmers in Kericho report that the bark from the banana trees is serving as fertiliser for the coffee, while the leaves shade the coffee from the bright sun, and the bananas feed their families while they wait for the coffee to harvest. At the same time, scientists say the permanent nature of the banana and coffee canopy and root systems is strongly reducing erosion in hilly regions, and mitigating carbon creation.

“We are doing research at that moment that shows - the more shade you put - I know we are talking about bananas, but we are also talking about shade trees - then you also sequester carbon much more - and that’s good for carbon mitigation,” said Jassogne, an agricultural systems scientist with the Consortium for Improving Agriculture-based Livelihoods in Africa.

But new research by the consortium on the benefits of intercropping show that beside shielding the farmers from climate change, the commercial benefits to the farmers of growing the crops together are substantial.
The research showed that in the arabica coffee-growing regions, annual returns per hectare averaged $4,441 for coffee and bananas grown together, compared with $1,728 and $2,364 for bananas and coffee grown alone, respectively.

In the robusta-growing areas, annual returns per hectare averaged $1,827 for coffee plus bananas, while farmers earned $1,170 and $1,286 for solely growing bananas and coffee in the same amount of space. Since coffee yields were essentially the same in both systems, the extra revenues came from adding the  banana plants. Scientists therefore recommend planting two coffee trees for each banana plant.

Around the world, scientists and farmers are scrambling to develop crops that not only are more resilient to erratic weather, but also yield more food per plot of land, to accommodate population growth and achieve food security.

Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter