News and knowhow for farmers

Desuckering helps Mwea banana farmer avoid mango season losses

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By George Munene

With ba­nana prices at their usual Decem­ber to Feb­ru­ary year low; cur­rent farm-gate prices range from Sh10 to 11 per kilo­gram, to the usual over Sh14, some farm­ers have re­sor­ted to feed­ing their ba­na­nas to cattle. Patrick Mbora, a ba­nana farmer and middle­man at Mwea, avoids these per­en­nial losses by hav­ing his ba­na­nas ripen at dif­fer­ent sea­sons to man­goes which have a short sea­sonal win­dow and are pre­ferred by con­sumers.

The Decem­ber to Feb­ru­ary months are the main mango har­vest sea­sons es­pe­cially in East­ern and Cent­ral Kenya, while also being char­ac­ter­ised by rains which in­crease the weight of ba­na­nas

While the growth pat­terns and dens­ity of ba­nana suck­ers can be con­trolled by cut­ting them off with a knife though they often just re­grow. “The con­tinu­ous cut­ting off of off­shoot can be both labor-in­tens­ive and costly. With my tis­sue cul­ture ba­na­nas, I avoid this by punc­tur­ing a hole on the re­gion the sucker has been cut from and pour­ing in diesel oil—this I have found com­pletely curbs their re­growth,” says Patrick, who cul­tiv­ates a 3-acre ba­nana farm at Mwea, Kir­inyaga County.

Re­lated News: Farm­ers’ Friend: con­trolling yel­low sig­a­toka (yel­low­ing dis­ease) in ba­na­nas

Re­lated News: Farm­Biz TV : Tis­sue-cul­ture ba­nana yield double the an­cient breeds.

De­pend­ing on the in­tens­ity of a farmer’s feed­ing pro­gram, suck­ers should not be more than five on each bed; ideally, a bed should ac­com­mod­ate the mother plant and two suck­ers.

“While set­ting up new ba­nana plots I en­sure that the plants, which take 9-12 months to de­velop, ma­ture away from them main mango sea­sons,” Mbora says.

“In buy­ing ba­na­nas, the tem­per­at­ure dif­fer­ence across re­gions has a major bear­ing on the ma­tur­ity rate and weight of ba­na­nas; Mwea being a hot re­gion for ex­ample has its ba­na­nas ripen earlier than those in Embu. The ba­na­nas are also lighter–we pay up to two shil­lings more than we do ba­na­nas grown in Embu for ex­ample—a re­gion that is colder and ex­per­i­ences more rain­fall,” he ex­plains.

Farm­ers who have in­ves­ted in ir­rig­a­tion sys­tems are able to cul­tiv­ate their crops over drier months and earn bet­ter re­turns due to mar­ket scarcity.

Re­lated News: Ba­nana farm­ers find value in neem as botan­ical pesti­cide against black weevil

While im­proved tis­sue cul­ture cul­tivars have en­hanced the quant­it­ies har­vestable per acre for farm­ers, some giant ba­nana vari­et­ies are shunned by buy­ers. “I have had FHIA-17 ba­na­nas that weigh up to 102 kilo­grams; if it is well fed the least it weighs is 80 kilo­grams. However, their mar­ket is poor be­cause their skin splits once they are nearly ripe. Im­proved ba­na­nas also present an added mar­ket chal­lenge—be­cause they are heavy, three fin­gers can weigh one kilo­gram, the equi­val­ent of up to seven reg­u­lar-sized ba­na­nas; this makes them hard to sell to re­tail out­lets and hawkers who often sell ba­na­nas as pieces rather than on a kilo­gram basis,” Patrick ex­plains.

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