Meru county has toppled Kisii from their first position in banana production to emerge national leaders with a revenue of Sh77billion annually government statistics now say.
Improved banana varieties coupled with incentives that spur banana farming like ready market and best banana farmers in the region have been responsible for the fast turn around in banana farming from a community that just a few years ago was deeply rooted in coffee farming.
With some 400,000 small holders now into banana farming Meru farmers account for only 15 percent of this but huge production is hinged on few number of farmers investing in high yielding varieties like tissue culture bananas.
Yet the turnaround has been swift. While production of bananas has been an ongoing venture, it hasnt been to commercial scale and even the county bought the bananas from neighbouring counties like Murang'a and Nyeri. “But when the farmers realized there was money in bananas as they continued to make losses in other traditional crops like coffee and dairy farming, and when researchers pitched the idea aggressively due to the area's good climatic condition favourable for banana farming the farmers moved full throttle into banana farming,” said Douglas Kiogora an extension officer from the area.
Government, aware of the enormous potential of banana to its people has now moved to encourage more banana farming in the area and value addition to assist the farmers reap more. Plans are at an advanced stage to build the best cold storage facility at Kariene market at a cost of Sh 40 million and other six fresh produce markets at a cost of Sh148 million shillings. Among them are Nkubu at Sh38 million, Chogoria at Sh22 million and Meru town at Sh 28 million all meant to spur value addition and quick access to markets by farmers.
A model borrowed from Murang'a county where farmers now sell bananas based on kilos rather than through eyeball estimate has seen farmers reap more from sale of bananas ultimately enticing more farmers into this farming.
Kisii which has been known as the hub of bananas, even earning the title the banana district, has since time immemorial been actively involved in this farming. But old age varieties and unharmonized markets have seen production dwindle considerably as farmers look for alternative better paying crops. “Exploitation has been the order of the day. Farmers are never motivated to grow more which has seen hundreds abandon the crop,” said Justus Onsiemo a banana trader in Nyamira district.
With reports indicating that banana is the fruit that will feed the nation in future in the wake of changing weather patterns, government is stepping up its intervention in banana production by providing new varieties and assuring farmers with markets upon harvest. This was well exemplified during the recent Meru Agricultural show where a huge government delegation drawn from the Ministry of Agriculture and Regional development visited Meru to learn success stories in banana production.
Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter