Farmers growing tissue culture bananas are earning more than two times what traditional varieties fetch.
Nyamira County farmer Ezekiel Moseti, who has a mix plantation of 50 bananas, says the 10 tissue culture bushes have stood out to be more productive, therefore, earning him more than traditional types.
“Whilst a local variety fetches betweenSh400 and Sh700 depending on the size, a tissue culture bunch fetches between Sh1,000 and Sh1,500,” said Moseti.
Wholesale buyers, who transport the bananas to town such as Nairobi, Mombasa, Nakuru, Eldoret, Kisumu, among others are his main customers. Bananas from Kisii region are preferred by urban residents for plantain.
James Kiragu Kamanga, an agribusiness consultant, who has worked with tissue culture banana growers for more than seven years, said besides the low growth vigor in the traditional varieties, the laboratory propagated type does well because it is less prone to diseases.
Panama disease is one of the most destructive infections caused by a fusarium fungus. It is spread mostly by use of infected suckers as planting materials. Panama disease has no remedy once it has set in.
“Key among the many benefits of tissue culture bananas is that plantlets go through a process which results in starter material that is clean and free from pest and diseases. With proper management, other benefits like uniformity and high yields are registered,” Kamanga said.
TC bananas are propagated in laboratories from cells of selected types and grown in a special growth solution into plantlets.
TC bananas yield bunches of more than 80kg per tree when looked after well. In the 2018 Nairobi International Trade Fair, a TC farm showcased a 110kg bunch.
Moseti sells a 80kg bunch at Sh1,000 but by the time it reaches Nairobi and other towns, it fetches more than Sh1,500.
The local varieties like ‘Ekeganda’ and Ekegusii, as the locals call the traditional types, hardly reach 60kg.
He is harvesting at least 20 bananas per month from the entire plantation, which he established at the beginning of 2015.
“The major investment in tissue culture banana establishment is the cost of the plantlets. One acre approximately holds 450 – 540 plantlets, depending on the spacing. A spacing of 2.5m by 3m allows for 450 plantlets per acre. A spacing of 3m by 3m allows for 540 plantlets, Kamanga said.
The plantlets cost depends on the nursery one buys from as well as the banana variety bought. The prices range between Sh100 and Sh200.
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Varieties are classified as Dessert, Cooking and Dual Varieties. Desserts include Grand Naine, Williams, Chinese Cavendish, and Giant Cavendish among others. Cooking varieties include Ngombe, Nusu Ngombe and Uganda Green. An example of a dual variety is FHIA 17.
Kenya produces an estimated 1.4m tonnes of bananas annually.
The Leading producers are: Meru (19 per cent), Embu (12 per cent), Taita Taveta (nine per cent), Murang’a (seven per cent), Kisii (six per cent), Tharaka Nithi (six per cent) and Bungoma (five per cent).
86 per cent of the total bananas produced are sold commercially with the rest being consumed directly according to USAID