MOGOTIO, KENYA: Joyce Macharia is the envy of many farmers in Mogotio, her five acre farm of bananas is the center of attraction in an area falling under Kenya’s Arid and Semi-Arid lands.
She ventured into banana farming three years ago having identified a gap in the market, which was shortage of the supply to growing population in her target towns of Nakuru, Naivasha and Nairobi.
Having in mind the big challenge of getting appropriate seeds at the right time, she began by setting up a banana tissue culture laboratory which has become a success and now supplies seeds to farmers spread across the country (Mombasa, Marsabit and Kisii).
“After quitting my job at a local bank, I decided to try a hand in banana farming due to the gaps and opportunities that existed in the industry, I couldn’t understand for instance why we should import bananas from neighboring countries yet we have what it takes to even export to those countries,” she says.
“Before setting up the business, I did a survey and realized that there was a problem in getting seeds to sustain commercial banana farming. How I tackled the challenge was to team up with friends to come up with a proper structure that would sustain our business,” she says.
“So we turned a residential house into a laboratory where we would use to produce seeds into bulk from identified banana varieties,” she adds. “We found out that through this model we are able to produce disease free seeds and also those that are able to easily adapt to local environmental conditions.”
The laboratory which is located along the Nairobi-Kisumu Highway is an investment worth Sh2 million and has a number of scientists charged with nurturing cells into seeds ready for planting.
She says most of the capital went into installing tissue-culture banana seedlings production systems that churn out over 10,000 plants every month. The lab has seven employees and each of the three bedrooms turned laboratory is used for different purposes in the production process.
“The workers are separating banana shoots, which will then be planted individually to multiply further.”
They work in groups to separate the shoots using what the agronomist calls clean benches.
The shoots are planted in a mixture of nutrients that include calcium, potassium and phosphorous and hormones that aid in multiplication, all mixed in a special gel.
The multiplication takes four weeks before shoots are separated and multiplied further in another room in a process that takes four weeks. One original shoot, known as meristem, can produce 1,000 plants.
From the shoots’ production and multiplication units, there is the ‘growers’ room where hormones are further used to aid in roots production.
Plants remain in this room for four weeks. Each shoot is planted in its own sterilised bottle in the special soil and essential nutrients.
Temperatures in the rooms are maintained at between 26-29 degrees Celsius as the plants are fragile and sensitive to too low or too high temperatures.
From the laboratory, the seeds are taken to the nursery which is located around Ngata area in Nakuru County. At the nursery, the seeds are hardened for around one month before taken to the field for planting.
“We have varieties such as FHIA 17, Chinese Cavendish, Grand Nain, Williams, Uganda Green and the FHIA 18. They are either the ripening or cooking type,” she adds.
She says banana requires adequate water and at the Mogotio farm what she has done is to do irrigation.