Luigina Mbiro Njuki is a banana farmer in Gicheche village, Embu County. Despite the popularity of tissue culture (TC) banana, 63 years old, formerly an official at Kenya National Bureau of statistics (KNBS) make a comparison after dumping tissue culture to our writer Malachi Motano in a question (Q) and answer (A) interview.
Q: Thank you for giving me an opportunity amid your busy day to explore banana farming
A: You are most welcome and I am also glad to share with the rest of Kenyans that although technology is with us, you don’t become irrelevant when holding to traditional trends.
Q: Do you know about Tissue culture banana
A: Yes I understand it well because I was formerly using the technology. To some extent it makes the banana plant to manufacture fruits faster than the normal banana. For example it may take 340 days compared to 420 days for normal bananas.
Q: What informed your entry into TC banana farming
A: I am also the chair-lady of Gichemwe Farmers, a Self-Help group. In 2007, when the craze to replace indigenous banana with tissue culture caught up in Embu, I planted tissue culture banana all over my land. Through Gichemwe Farmers which is a local group for banana growers from Gicheche and Mwene Ndega Villages in Runyenjes Sub-county, I acquired tissue culture banana plants.
Q: How was the production
A: The production from my tissue culture banana was not bad because a single tissue banana bunch weighed 45kgs. One kilogram of banana was going for between Sh10 and Sh15.
Q: And for how long did you plant TC banana
A: I grew tissue culture banana for three good years if I am not wrong.
Q: I think three years was long enough to convince you not to think otherwise
A: After three years, production from my tissue culture banana plummeted because a single bunch weighed a maximum of 40 Kgs. My earnings from bananas became dismal compared to some members of the group who had planted indigenous banana.
Q: What was your reaction
A: I felt demoralized after I realized my neighbours were selling banana weighing between 65kgs. They had planted the “Israel” variety of bananas which sold at a higher price in the same market.
A: How much did the Israel variety sell
A: A single bunch of Israel banana earns farmers between Sh. 1000 and Sh,500 in a temporary market organised in my homestead. I decided to try indigenous banana at my farm in 2010. By then I had retired from KNBS. I retired in 2007.
Q: What informed the U- turn
A: I saw the potential in the indigenous banana after I saw my group member selling banana with a lot of weight compared to mine. I then replaced a small portion of the land with suckers of Israel variety.
Q: And what was the result
A: After one year, they began to produce, with the first bunch weighing 55Kgs. Within two years, I had replaced all tissue culture banana plants. Currently, I sell 3,000 and 4000 Kgs of bananas monthly from my banana plantation.
Q: What about your group
A:My group sells at least 15 tonnes of banana monthly to individual buyers from Nairobi. Meanwhile I obtain healthy and clean suckers from my field.
Q: Now that you have the experience how do the two compare
A: Indigenous bananas are much superior to tissue culture. From this my one acre piece of land, I harvest bananas weighing between 65Kgs to 95Kgs each.
Q: What about its performance in the market
A: A full banana bunch fetches me between Sh1,000 and Sh1,500 in the market, with most buyers coming from Nairobi. The income from sales of indigenous banana is three times more than I was earning from tissue culture bananas.
Q: Describe your choice of Suckers
A: I get sword sucker that grows at the lower banana stem because it is larger than water sucker that grow close to the soil surface. Sword suckers produce faster based on the well-developed roots and base
compared to water suckers.
Q: Even as we near conclusion, briefly take me through the growing process
A: I space my banana plants well to eliminate competition and increase production. I make sure that banana plants are 10-12 feet apart to give enough space for manure and sunlight to get through. Manure and sunlight contributes a lot to the weight of banana by supporting development and maturity of bananas.
Q: In conclusion, opportunities come with challenges. What are some of the challenges that banana farmers (TC or indigenous) face with their production
A: Poor market and water shortage are the main main challenges. Although market is not that good, I anticipates price improvement with the formation of Embu Banana Co-operative Society. I believe that price of 1 kg of banana will fetch Sh25 in the market.
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