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Banana Farming In Kenya: A Beginner’s Guide

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banana plantation

Kenya is one of the largest producers of bananas in Africa. Bananas are a staple food in Kenya and are grown by both small-scale and large-scale farmers. Banana farming in Kenya is a profitable venture that requires proper planning, preparation, and management.

There are different varieties of bananas grown in Kenya, including the Cavendish, Grand Naine, and Uganda Green. Banana farming in Kenya requires specific conditions such as deep, well-drained soils, an annual rainfall ranging from 1000-2500 mm, and an altitude of 1800 m above sea level. Farmers who adhere to these conditions can expect high yields and profits from their banana plantations.

Whether you are a small-scale farmer or a large-scale farmer, this article will provide you with a complete guide on how to grow bananas in Kenya. We will cover everything from selecting the right variety of bananas to plant, preparing the soil, planting, and caring for your banana plants. By the end of this article, you will have all the information you need to grow healthy and profitable banana plants in Kenya.

Climate and Soil Requirements

Banana is one of the most grown crops in Kenya, and it performs well in hot and humid conditions. To grow bananas successfully, you need to consider the following climate requirements:

  • Annual rainfall ranging from 1000-2500 mm
  • Optimal temperature of 27 0 C
  • Altitude required is 1800 m above sea level

The ideal climate for bananas is hot and humid, with temperatures ranging from 20-30 0 C. Bananas also require deep, well-drained soils rich in organic matter with a pH of between 6.0 and 7.5. Spacing is important in banana growing to ensure adequate accessibility of the required resources by the plant.

Before planting, deep soil cultivation by ploughing and harrowing is recommended. The fields should be free of trees, bushes, and especially perennial weeds. Bananas can grow well with an annual rainfall of between 1000 and 2500 mm, but optimal yields require a well-distributed annual rainfall of 1400 mm or more, without long dry spells.

It is important to note that bananas are sensitive to waterlogging and drought. Therefore, proper drainage is necessary to avoid waterlogging, while irrigation is essential during drought periods.

Selecting and Planting Banana Suckers

Banana suckers are the offshoots of the banana plant that grow from the base of the main stem. They are used to propagate new banana plants. Selecting and planting the right suckers is crucial for the success of your banana farm. Here are some tips for selecting and planting banana suckers:

  • Choose healthy suckers that are at least 1.5 meters tall and have a diameter of at least 5 centimeters. Avoid selecting suckers that are too small or too large as they may not grow well.
  • Look for suckers that have a well-developed root system. The roots should be white and healthy-looking.
  • Avoid selecting suckers that have any signs of disease or damage. These suckers may not grow well and may infect other plants in your farm.

Once you have selected the right suckers, it’s time to plant them. Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Prepare the planting hole by digging a hole that is at least 30 centimeters deep and wide.
  2. Add organic matter such as compost or manure to the hole. This will help improve the soil fertility and provide nutrients to the young plant.
  3. Plant the sucker in the hole and cover the roots with soil. Make sure that the soil is firm around the sucker to prevent it from falling over.
  4. Water the sucker immediately after planting. This will help settle the soil around the roots and provide moisture to the young plant.
  5. Mulch around the sucker with organic matter such as dry leaves or grass. This will help retain moisture in the soil and prevent weed growth.

By following these tips, you can ensure that your banana farm starts off on the right foot. Remember to select healthy suckers and plant them in well-prepared soil to give them the best chance of growing into healthy banana plants.

Fertilization and Irrigation

Proper fertilization and irrigation are crucial to the growth and productivity of banana plants. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Apply around 200g triple phosphate per planted banana to accelerate growth.
  • To foster fertilization, one can apply nitrogen.
  • Ammonium Nitrate (CAN) is necessary and should be applied around 300g annually.

When it comes to irrigation, drip irrigation is the most recommended method for banana plantations in Kenya. The drip irrigation system uses two irrigation tubes on each banana tree row. These tubes have dedicated points known as drip emitters, distributed across the lines at 50cm apart. The drainage rate per emitter should be approximately 4litres/hour and ranges from the hours of daily operation between 6-12 hours per day.

banana fruit
banana fruit

It is also important to water the soil whenever the top layer begins to dry out. One of the essential rules of banana tree care is not to let them dry out; these are trees that crave moist soil and regular watering, particularly during hot, dry weather. Try spreading a four-to-six-inch layer of organic mulch around the base of the tree to help retain moisture.

Pest and Disease Management

Banana is a crop that is susceptible to various pests and diseases. It is important to manage these problems to ensure a healthy and productive crop. Here are some tips for pest and disease management:

  • Use clean planting material: Start with healthy planting material to avoid introducing pests and diseases into your field. Tissue-cultured planting material is recommended for this purpose.
  • Practice good crop hygiene: Keep your field clean and free of debris that can harbor pests and diseases. Remove and destroy infected plant material to prevent the spread of diseases.
  • Maintain good soil fertility: Healthy plants are better able to resist pests and diseases. Ensure that your soil is well-draining, has adequate nutrients, and has a pH between 5.5 and 6.5.
  • Use appropriate pesticides: If pests become a problem, use pesticides that are appropriate for the specific pest and that are approved for use on bananas. Always follow the label instructions carefully.

The most common disease affecting bananas in Kenya is Xanthomonas wilt (BXW). This bacterial disease can be devastating, causing up to 100% yield loss. To prevent the spread of BXW:

  • Use disease-free planting material: Only use planting material that has been certified as free of BXW.
  • Practice good crop hygiene: Remove and destroy infected plant material and disinfect tools and equipment between uses.
  • Use resistant varieties: There are some banana varieties that have been bred to be resistant to BXW. These should be used whenever possible.

Other pests and diseases that can affect bananas in Kenya include banana weevil, nematodes, and black sigatoka. Consult with your local agricultural extension office for advice on how to manage these problems.

Harvesting and Post-Harvest Handling

Harvesting is a crucial stage in banana farming, and it determines the quality and quantity of the yield. The bananas should be harvested when they are mature, but still green. The ideal time to harvest is when the fingers on the banana bunch are plump and have rounded edges. If the bananas are left to ripen on the tree, they may become overripe and fall off the tree, leading to losses.

After harvesting, the pseudo-stem should be cut off with a clean implement at ground level. The cut should be covered with soil to avoid easy entry by the banana weevil. The harvested bananas should be transported to the packing house or market as soon as possible to avoid bruising and damage to the fruit.

Proper post-harvest handling is essential to ensure that the bananas reach the market in good condition. The first step is to sort the bananas based on their size, shape, and quality. The bananas should be washed and disinfected to remove any dirt and pests. The bananas should be dried thoroughly to prevent the growth of bacteria and fungi.

The bananas should be packed in clean and sturdy boxes or crates to prevent damage during transportation. The boxes should be labeled with the variety, grade, and weight of the bananas. The bananas should be transported in a well-ventilated vehicle to prevent overheating and spoilage.

Finally, the bananas should be stored in a cool and dry place to extend their shelf life. The ideal temperature for storing bananas is between 13°C and 15°C. High temperatures can cause the bananas to ripen quickly and spoil, while low temperatures can cause the bananas to turn black and lose their flavor.

Also Read: Avocado Farming In Kenya 

Sources: Qaim, Matin. Assessing the impact of banana biotechnology in Kenya. Vol. 10. Ithaca, NY: ISAAA, 1999. Link: https://www.isaaa.org/resources/Publications/briefs/10/download/isaaa-brief-10-1999.pdf

Kabunga, Nassul S., Thomas Dubois, and Matin Qaim. “Yield effects of tissue culture bananas in Kenya: accounting for selection bias and the role of complementary inputs.” Journal of Agricultural Economics 63.2 (2012): 444-464. Link: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1477-9552.2012.00337.x

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John Kamau is a highly experienced agriculture expert based in Kenya. He holds a degree in Agriculture from the University of Nairobi and has over 15 years of experience in the field. Throughout his career, John has been committed to promoting sustainable agriculture practices in Kenya. He has worked with small-scale farmers in rural communities to improve their crop yields, implement irrigation systems, and adopt environmentally friendly farming practices. John is also an expert in the use of technology in agriculture. He has worked with organizations to develop mobile applications that help farmers access information about weather patterns, market prices, and best practices for crop management. In addition to his work in Kenya, John has also been involved in agricultural projects in other African countries, including Tanzania and Uganda. He has served as a consultant for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and has been recognized for his work with numerous awards.

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