Banana farming in Kenya is a significant agricultural sector that plays a crucial role in the country’s economy. Kenya is one of the leading banana-producing countries in Africa, and this industry has provided employment opportunities for many rural communities while also contributing to food security and export revenue.

Banana Farming In Kenya

Bananas are one of the most important crops for food and income in western, central and parts of eastern Kenya. Collectively these regions produce the bulk of bananas that are consumed in the major urban areas of the country.

The Kisii region produces the bulk of the cooking varieties, while the central and eastern regions produce more desert varieties. Unlike in other East African countries where bananas are cooked as part of the staple diet, Kenyan consumers prefer desert banana. The demand for ripened fruit often outsrips supply, which has created opportunities for imports from neighbouring countries. Despite its importance, banana production in Kenya has not received due policy attention, unlike other cash and horticultural crops.

Meru County is the largest banana producer, among the banana producing counties in Kenya.

Banana farming in Kenya is mainly on small scale. These small scale farmers ‘produce contribute to food requirement in the country. However, despite the distinct and fundamental role, the small-scale farmers are among the poorest group in the society hence cannot spend much in their farms. The land under banana production accounts for about 2 percent of Kenya’s cultivatable land.

The banana production in Kenya is nearly 1.4 million tons providing food to the residents. This is because the banana output is consumed locally. Banana marketing in Kenya is by use of intermediaries who acquire bananas directly from farmers, transport them to a collection center and thereafter transport them to other different markets by use of trucks.

Banana Varieties in Kenya

VarietyClassificationYield per Acre (Kg)Plant Population per AcreImportant Notes
CavendishRipening20,000 – 30,000600 – 800Most widely grown for export markets.
Grand NaineRipening25,000 – 35,000600 – 800Similar to Cavendish, known for sweetness.
FHIA-17Dual-Purpose20,000 – 30,000600 – 800Resistant to Panama disease and weevils.
Lady FingerRipening20,000 – 30,000600 – 800Smaller and sweeter than Cavendish.
Pisang AwakCooking18,000 – 28,000600 – 800Primarily used for cooking due to firmness.
Gros MichelRipening20,000 – 30,000600 – 800Once popular but susceptible to Panama disease.
ValeryRipening20,000 – 30,000600 – 800Similar to Cavendish, known for its sweet taste.
Apple BananaRipening20,000 – 30,000600 – 800Has a distinctive apple-like flavor when ripe.
Ng’ombeCooking18,000 – 28,000600 – 800Popular for cooking due to its starchy texture.
FIA-17Ripening20,000 – 30,000600 – 800Resistant to Panama disease and weevils.
Williams HybridRipening20,000 – 30,000600 – 800Combines traits of sweet and robust fruit.
PlantainCooking18,000 – 28,000600 – 800Primarily used for cooking, less sweet.

Important Notes:

  1. Cooking Varieties: Pisang Awak is a popular cooking banana variety, often used in various traditional Kenyan dishes. It is valued for its firm texture when cooked.
  2. Ripening Varieties: Cavendish, Grand Naine, Lady Finger, and Gros Michel are primarily grown for their sweet fruit, suitable for direct consumption. These varieties are commonly found in local markets and are also exported.
  3. Dual-Purpose Varieties: FHIA-17 is a dual-purpose variety, suitable for both ripening and cooking. It is known for its resistance to Panama disease and weevils.
  4. Yield per Acre: Yields can vary based on factors such as agronomic practices, climate, and disease management. These are approximate ranges and not fixed yields.
  5. Plant Population per Acre: The recommended plant population per acre typically ranges from 600 to 800 plants. Proper spacing is crucial for optimal growth and yield.
  6. Important Notes: It’s essential to note that banana farming in Kenya can be susceptible to diseases like Panama disease and pests like banana weevils. Farmers should implement proper management practices to mitigate these risks.

Land preparation on banana farming in Kenya and planting

When planting in virgin land, start with clearing trees and shrubs on the new land. Then spray the cleared land with broad spectrum herbicide to kill weeds like couch grass or just plough the land and harrow.

  • Dig holes of size: 60cm x 60cm x 60cm  at spacing of 3m x 2m apart when establishing pure banana orchard.
  • Place the soil from the top 30 cm in a heap and the soil of the second 30 cm (sub-soil) in a separate heap.
  • Obtain 20 kilogram of well decomposed manure for each hole, put the manure in hole and cover lightly with top soil.
  • Wait for 2 weeks and plant clean planting material (tissue culture) or paired corm of desired banana variety.
  • At planting, use phosphate fertilizer such as diamonium phosphate (DAP), single super phosphate (SSP) or (NPK 20, 20, 0), add 200 gram of the phosphate fertilizer to top soil and mix well with mature in the hole.
  • Use 20 kilograms of chopped fresh tithonia leaves  in place of manure where necessary.
  • To have a good start for the banana plants, planting should be timed to coincide with the on-set of rains.

Use of suckers as planting materials on banana farming

If one decides to use corms, it is important to note that only healthy suckers should be used. Get planting material only from a clean disease free orchard and area.

Choose healthy sword sucker of superior banana cultivars and make sure there are no signs of weevil tunnels on the chosen suckers. Remove all roots and a thin outer layer of corm skin epidermis this is known as paring. Place only the pared area of sucker in boiling water for 30 seconds or surface sterilized for 20 min in fungicide mixture. Remove the sterilized sucker and cut the top part to produce the corm. Plant the sterilized corm the same day.

Mix 20 kilograms of well rotten manure with top soil and put the mixture in the hole. Place the paired treated corm in the hole with the mixture.

Use the sub-soil to fill up the hole and bury the corm in the hole at 10 cm below the soil cover.

Field establishment using tissue culture /macro propagated seedlings

When using tissue culture plantlets, mix 20 kilograms of well rotten manure with top soil and put the mixture in the hole. Remove the plastic bag container and place the TC plant, 30 cm deep in the hole with the mixture. Use the sub-soil to fill up the hole to level of soil in pot. When planting without rains irrigate each hole with 20 litres of water.

Banana Seedlings In Kenya
Banana Seedlings In Kenya

In 1 acre, you will need 450 planting material at spacing of 3 x 3 M between the rows and 3M between plants. It is important to plant banana varieties required by the target market.

In the tropics like Kenya banana plantation have a long life span sometimes > 40 years when well-managed, management is therefore key.

Buying seedlings

Tissue culture banana seedlings have been proven to be of high quality and free of diseases. In Kenya, there are many well-known suppliers of tissue culture banana seedlings. They include JKUAT, KARLO, FARMERS TREND – +254 724559286 / +254 790509684 among others.  The price of one seedling goes for between Ksh 150-500.

Key activities in banana orchard management from planting to harvest

Soil analysis on banana farming in Kenya

Alluvia, andisols and organic soils are best for banana growing; however, bananas can still be grown in other soil types provided heavy fertilization is done to avoid nutrient deficiency. Soil analysis of the targeted farm is important in order to inform and guide the application of fertilizers and other nutrient sources.

Bananas require a deep, well-drained loam soil with high humus content. A pH range of 5.6 – 7.5 is optimum. Bananas require considerable mounts of Nitrogen, and Potassium (NK) to ma&tain high yields. These can be supplied by planting on fertile soils or applying fertilisers regularly.

Application of organic manure and inorganic fertilizers

To maintain the soil fertility while ensuring the bananas are well nourished, organic fertilizers such as well decomposed manure, compost or tithonia leaves should be applied every six months. Six months after planting add 20 kilograms of well decomposed manure per mat. Subsequently continue to add 20 kilograms of well decomposed manure per mat each year after every six months.

Supplement with calcium ammonium nitrate (CAN) as top dress once a year at 100 grams per mat. Plant a tithonia plant boundary around your farm for sustainable supply of this plant which will provide you with continuous nitrogen supply throughout the life of bananas.

Intercropping on banana farming

After planting bananas, one may intercrop the banana crop with compatible crops such as onions, kales and indigenous vegetables before the bananas canopy is formed. Bananas may also be grown along the contours for erosion control and soil conservation in farms where other crops such as finger millet and maize are the main crop.

Weeding on banana farming

Weeds compete with bananas and must be destroyed. Always keep the orchard weed free manually or by using herbicide. Clear stubborn grass weeds like couch and nut grasses using herbicides. Manually weed around basin carefully to avoid cutting roots. Herbicides should be used only when bananas are taller, do not spay the bananas with herbicide.

While weeding banana basin/ mat ensure care is taken not to cut banana roots that are quite shallow found within the top 15 cm of the soil. During the first six to eight months after planting you may intercrop banana crop with compatible short crops like vegetables to take advantage of space and labor. As the banana canopy develops weeds are suppressed because of shading.

Mulching

Mulching is important because mulch protects the soil from erosion and helps in moisture retention as well as adds nutrients to the soil when it rots. Use banana leaves removed during de-leafing, chopped drying pseudo-stem cut during harvesting, and suckers removed. Add any other grass mulch including elephant grass if available. Keep mulch several centimeters away from base of stool to avoid ants and weevils.

Orchard irrigation

Water is very critical in banana growing. Bananas do well in areas receiving rainfall between 1000mm -1800mm; well distributed throughout the year. When rain is adequate and well spread there is no need for irrigation. In areas where rainfall is inadequate or not well distributed, supplement by irrigation to ensure optimal production. Drip irrigation, also known as trickle irrigation or micro-irrigation, is highly recommended. It is an irrigation method, which minimizes the use of water and fertilizer by allowing water to drip slowly to the roots of plants, either onto soil surface directly onto the root zone, through a network of valves, pipes, tubing and emitters.

Flowering and bunch management

Under optimal conditions, the banana flowers in the 9th to 12th months. For dessert banana grown
in Kenyan tropics and intended for premium market, only cover the bunch with perforated bunch
bags to protect fruit from bruises. This is to avoid increased heat and humidity. Pesticide
impregranated covers can also be used in micro-climates where thrips thrive. Cover the bunch
after all the bracts covering the hands have fallen, the fingers are curling upwards and floral remains have hardened.

Removal of the male buds

Male bud is the part of the inflorescence which consists of the male flowers only, also referred to as the heart or navel. Remove the male bud after all the female flowers are open; approximately 2 weeks after shooting. The removal of male bud results in early bunch filling and in areas where

BXW disease is present it’s used to manage BXW disease by avoiding bees visiting the male flowers for nectar and spreading the bacteria. Use a forked stick (Figure 14 left) to remove male buds is recommended to avoid spread of BXW and panama diseases; this is because the stick only touches the male bud that falls off during the removal.

Advantages of male bud removal

  • Increase in both length and circumference of the fruit
  • Increased in weight of bunch up to 7.5%
  • Banana thrips which attack the fruit and cause unsightly brown freckling, live and breed in the male bud in large numbers hence removal reduces pest & disease incidence
  • Reduces the days to harvesting period
  • Bunches with removed male bud are heavier by 3kgs
  • It is one way to manage Banana Xanthomonas Wilt (BXW) disease

Staking/ propping of banana plants

Propping is a way of supporting heavy bunches to prevent plant logging. Large banana bunches cause the pseudo-stem to bend over and become weak. Weak pseudo-stem breaks especially during strong winds. Pseudo-stems bearing heavy bunches of bananas should therefore be propped of staked with forked poles or string tied to a strong peg to avoid logging. Falling over of pseudo stem results in total bunch loss of immature bunches.

Strong forked stick should be used. The stick is embedded in the ground and the forked end is wedged against the throat of banana plant under the curvature of the penducle; clear of the bunch to avoid bruising. The forked stick can be reused for propping many times

planting on banana farming in kenya

Harvesting Bananas

In most banana growing areas of Kenya, the first harvest starts between 12-18 months after planting depending on the temperature of the area. Banana fruit is harvested when physiologically mature. A fully mature bunch is one with a finger on the first hand turning yellow. In the tropics, the average duration from flower to physiological maturity (i.e. ready for harvest) varies from 90 to 170 days (3 to 6 months) depending on banana cultivar and climatic conditions especially temperature.

For local market, dessert banana fruit can be harvested when fully mature for immediate ripening and marketing. Dessert bananas for distant markets should be harvested when between 75% mature when fingers are ¾ round and 90% mature to avoid ripening on the way to the markets.

Cooking bananas should be harvested when between 75% mature and fingers are ¾ round and 90% mature to avoid ripening before use.

Harvesting should be done early to mid-morning or during overcast weather to control overheating problem. Mature bunches should be handled carefully during harvesting because harsh treatment may result in physical damage that would reduce the quality and the selling price. Harvest the bunch onto a padded tray and transport carefully to the packaging station avoiding any jolts or rubbing. When harvesting banana bunch, cut a notch into the pseudo stem and have someone hold the stalk ready so that the bunch falls slowly onto a cushion. This way the fruits on the bunch are not crushed or bruised, but retain the quality they had on the plant.

The bunch should then be moved to a shade immediately to wait for packing. After every harvest either cut the pseudo-stem at ground level and cover the stump with soil to avoid weevils laying eggs and breeding. Chop the cut pseudo-stem into small pieces, spread to dry quickly to deny weevils breeding grounds and reduce their population. The pseudo-stem can also be cut at 1.5 to 2 metre height when harvesting. The remaining standing piece of pseudo-stem then acts as source of nutrients for remaining plants in the mat.

There are three key tips for harvesting:

  • Harvest the fruit during the cool part of the day when possible.
  • Shade the fruit during transport to the packing shed.
  • Transporting the fruit to the packing shed as soon as possible after harvest

Banana Yield

Banana yields depend on the genetic potential of a variety and management practices of the farmer. In general the cooking banana varieties mature early followed by the apple dessert varieties then Cavendish varieties. The Muraru bananas take long to mature. Average banana bunch of Cavendish variety weighs 40 kilograms; cooking bananas like Ngombe and FHIA bunch can weigh up to 100 kilograms in weight. Where management is optimum, the yield is a product of maturity period and bunch weight.

Banana Varieties maturing early and have big bunch give higher yields and those late maturing with small bunch result in low yields. Yields of 20-40 tons per year may be attained depending on management.

Banana Farming

Cost of banana production per acre

  1. Costs of banana farming per Acre:
    • Land preparation, planting, and maintenance: 50,000 KES
    • Fertilizers and nutrients: 20,000 KES
    • Pest and disease control: 10,000 KES
    • Irrigation: 15,000 KES
    • Labor and miscellaneous expenses: 30,000 KES
    • Cost of purchasing seedlings: 90,000 KES
    • Total Costs: 215,000 KES
  2. Yield per Acre: Assuming an average yield of 25,000 kg (25 metric tons) per acre for a variety like Cavendish.
  3. Market Price: Assuming an average market price of 30 KES per kg.

Revised Calculations:

  1. Total Revenue: Yield per acre × Market Price per kg
    • Total Revenue = 25,000 kg × 30 KES/kg = 750,000 KES
  2. Total Costs: Total costs now include the cost of purchasing seedlings, which is 215,000 KES.
  3. Expected Profit: Total Revenue – Total Costs
    • Expected Profit = 750,000 KES – 215,000 KES = 535,000 KES

Keep in mind that the actual costs, yields, and market prices can vary widely based on several factors, including location, farming practices, and market fluctuations. Additionally, it’s essential to account for other factors such as transportation costs, taxes, and unforeseen expenses.

This simplified calculation provides a rough estimate of potential profits for banana farming in Kenya. For a more accurate assessment, it is advisable to create a detailed budget based on your specific circumstances, including the banana variety you are growing, local market conditions, and production practices. Additionally, ongoing monitoring and adjustments are essential to manage costs and maximize profitability in banana farming.

Factors affecting banana farming in Kenya

  • Pests and diseases: Banana plants are susceptible to a number of pests and diseases, such as the banana bunchy top virus, the banana wilt disease, and the banana weevil. These pests and diseases can cause significant damage to banana crops, leading to low yields and losses.
  • Poor agronomic practices: Poor agronomic practices, such as the use of poor-quality planting materials, inadequate fertilization, and improper irrigation, can also lead to low yields and losses in banana farming.
  • Inadequate access to markets: Many banana farmers in Kenya do not have adequate access to markets, which makes it difficult for them to sell their bananas at a fair price. This can reduce their profits and discourage them from continuing to farm bananas.
  • Climate change: Climate change is also affecting banana farming in Kenya. Changes in rainfall patterns and temperature are making it more difficult for banana plants to grow and thrive. This is leading to lower yields and losses for banana farmers.
  • High production costs: The cost of inputs such as land, labor, fertilizer, and pesticides is relatively high in Kenya. This makes it difficult for banana farmers to make a profit from their crops.
  • Government policies: Government policies can also affect banana farming in Kenya. For example, policies that restrict the importation of bananas can make it more difficult for banana farmers to sell their crops.

Pests and Diseases affecting banana farming in Kenya

Banana farming is susceptible to various pests and diseases, which can significantly impact crop yields and quality if not managed effectively. Here are some common pests and diseases in banana farming:

Common Pests:

  1. Banana Weevil (Cosmopolites sordidus): Banana weevils are one of the most damaging pests in banana farming. They tunnel into the pseudostems and corms, causing weakening and plant death. They are especially problematic in East Africa.
  2. Nematodes: Nematodes are microscopic worms that can infest banana roots, leading to poor nutrient uptake and stunted growth. Root-knot nematodes are particularly harmful.
  3. Aphids: Aphids are small insects that feed on banana leaves and transmit viral diseases. They can cause leaf curling and yellowing.
  4. Thrips: Thrips damage banana plants by feeding on leaves, causing scarring and distortion. They may also transmit viruses.
  5. Mites: Spider mites can cause damage to banana leaves by feeding on plant cells. This can lead to reduced photosynthesis and yield.

Common Diseases:

  1. Panama Disease (Fusarium wilt): Panama disease is a soil-borne fungal disease caused by the pathogen Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense. It is one of the most devastating diseases affecting banana plants and can lead to plant death. Resistant banana varieties are often used to manage this disease.
  2. Black Sigatoka (Mycosphaerella fijiensis): Black Sigatoka is a foliar disease that affects banana leaves. It causes dark lesions, reducing the plant’s ability to photosynthesize and resulting in decreased yield.
  3. Bacterial Wilt (Xanthomonas campestris pv. musacearum): Bacterial wilt is a bacterial disease that leads to wilting and death of banana plants. It can spread rapidly through infected soil and water.
  4. Banana Streak Virus (BSV): Banana streak virus is a viral disease that can lead to discoloration, streaking, and reduced fruit quality. There is no cure for this disease, and infected plants must be removed to prevent further spread.

Management and Control:

Effective management of pests and diseases in banana farming includes the following practices:

  1. Resistant Varieties: Planting resistant banana varieties can help mitigate the impact of some diseases, such as Panama disease and Black Sigatoka.
  2. Good Agricultural Practices: Implementing proper sanitation, including removing and disposing of infected plant material, can reduce disease spread.
  3. Integrated Pest Management (IPM): IPM strategies involve a combination of cultural practices, biological control, and judicious use of pesticides to manage pests while minimizing environmental impact.
  4. Nematode Control: Crop rotation and soil fumigation can help manage nematode infestations.
  5. Chemical Control: When necessary, pesticides can be used to control certain pests and diseases, but their use should be judicious and in accordance with recommended guidelines.
  6. Monitoring: Regular monitoring for signs of pests and diseases is crucial to early detection and prompt management.

FAQs on banana farming in Kenya

1. What is the best time to plant bananas in Kenya?

  • Bananas can be planted throughout the year in Kenya, but the best time is during the rainy season to ensure adequate soil moisture for young plants.

2. How far apart should I space banana plants in my plantation?

  • The recommended spacing is usually 2.5 meters between rows and 2 meters between individual banana plants. Some varieties require 3 x 3 or 3 x 2m.

3. What are the common pests that affect banana plants in Kenya?

  • Common banana pests in Kenya include banana weevils, nematodes, aphids, thrips, and spider mites.

4. How can I control banana weevils on my farm?

  • Control measures include using healthy planting materials, proper sanitation, and applying appropriate pesticides when necessary.

5. What is Panama disease, and how can it be managed?

  • Panama disease is a devastating fungal disease. Management includes planting resistant varieties and maintaining strict sanitation practices.

6. Are there banana varieties resistant to Black Sigatoka in Kenya?

  • Yes, some banana varieties, such as FHIA-17 and FHIA-23, have shown resistance to Black Sigatoka.

7. What are the best practices for fertilizing banana plants?

  • Conduct soil tests to determine nutrient deficiencies and apply a balanced fertilizer regimen based on the results.

8. How often should I irrigate my banana plantation?

  • The frequency of irrigation depends on local conditions, but bananas generally require regular watering, especially during dry periods.

9. Can I grow bananas on sloping land in Kenya?

  • Yes, bananas can be grown on sloping land, but terracing and erosion control measures may be needed to prevent soil erosion.

10. What are the ideal climatic conditions for banana farming in Kenya?

  • Bananas thrive in temperatures between 20°C and 30°C and require well-distributed rainfall throughout the year.

11. How long does it take for banana plants to bear fruit after planting?

  • Depending on the variety and growing conditions, bananas can start bearing fruit within 9 to 12 months after planting.

12. What is the average yield per acre for banana farming in Kenya?

  • Yields can vary, but with proper management, an average yield of 20,000 to 30,000 kg (20 to 30 metric tons) per acre is achievable.

13. How do I market my bananas in Kenya?

  • You can sell bananas in local markets, to fruit vendors, or export them. Building relationships with buyers and cooperatives can help access markets.

14. What are the major challenges faced by banana farmers in Kenya?

  • Challenges include pests, diseases, fluctuating market prices, limited access to credit, and inadequate infrastructure.

15. Is organic banana farming viable in Kenya?

  • Yes, organic banana farming is viable and can fetch premium prices in the market, but it requires adherence to organic practices and certification.

16. How do I prevent diseases like Black Sigatoka in my banana plantation?

  • Implementing proper disease management practices, including regular fungicide applications and sanitation, can help prevent Black Sigatoka.

17. Are there government support programs for banana farmers in Kenya?

  • Yes, the Kenyan government offers various support programs, including subsidies, training, and access to credit for banana farmers.

18. What are the key steps in post-harvest handling of bananas?

  • Post-harvest handling includes careful harvesting, proper packaging, and storage in a cool, well-ventilated area to extend shelf life.

19. How can I improve the profitability of my banana farming operation?

  • Focus on cost-effective practices, market research, and adopting modern farming techniques to enhance profitability.

20. Are there training programs available for new banana farmers in Kenya?

  • Yes, agricultural extension services and training programs are available through government agencies and agricultural organizations to help new banana farmers acquire essential knowledge and skills.

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