SECTIONS

Steps to cut through the crowded banana market

Traders ferry fresh Sweet Bananas to Kisii Municipal Market on March 8, 2022. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

Bananas are one of the oldest fruits known to mankind. In Kenya, bananas are widely consumed, and for that, one may never go wrong with choosing to go the banana way.

Here are a few insights on production from Margaret Achieng’, a farmer from Kisumu county.

Choose a variety

In Kenya, a wide range of banana varieties is grown which include:

Ripening- Grand naine, Giant Cavendish, Vallery, Williams hybrid, Chinese dwarf, Gold finger, Kisii sweet etc. Cooking types- Kisii matoke, Uganda Green, N’gombe, Nusu N’gombe, Solio, Ishighame. Dual-purpose – Muraru, Fhia. If you are planning for the export market, consider the Giant Cavendish. 

Soil preparation

The soil should be well-nourished to feed your plant. It is important to provide at least 12 hours of sunlight to encourage growth.

The soil should not be too acidic or too alkaline and it should be rich in organic matter with high nitrogen. Phosphorus and potash are good for bananas.

Ecological conditions

Bananas do well in warm and rainy climates because it is a tropical crop. Preferred temperatures are between 10 to 40 degrees Celcius.

Strong dry winds cause a significant decline in plant growth and fruit production quality.

Bananas are propagated by suckers and sword suckers with narrow leaves, this is because bananas do not produce viable seeds. There is tissue culture, where banana is basically propagated vegetatively.

The technique provides robust means to prepare disease-free planting materials that can provide the first line of defence for the banana.

Planting

Can be grown through pit or furrow methods. This can be done at any time of the year.

Advantages of tissue cultured planting materials are: plants are free from pests and diseases, there is uniform growth and increase in production, the crops mature early and it is possible to plant all year round.

Bunch weight and quality

At a spacing of 1.8 metres by 1.8 metres, place two plants per hole to double the yield. Double planting for some varieties such as Robusta could also increase yields.

Covering the bunches with a cloth or polythene protects them from the sun, wind and dust, and increases yield.

Covering the bunch increases the weight and quality of the fruit. Covering a bunch of bananas raises the temperature, which helps in early maturation.

After the first opening, flowers keep coming, however, they are normally sterile. These usually fall off because they do not have the necessary parts to produce fruit even after pollination.

Bananas love water, for maximum productivity water regularly, however, the roots have poor water retention.

The use of drip irrigation and mulching can help improve water use efficiency.

For maximum yields, frequently fertilise the plants from four to six times during the season. Poor availability of any micronutrients will limit plant growth – especially in leafy areas – and reduce the weight and yield of banana bunches.

Pests and Diseases

Major pests include burrowing nematode, banana thrips, banana weevil borer and moles. Most of these can be controlled by using clean planting material for propagation, that is tissue culture or using clean water treatment.

To control moles, use traps and keep the basin of the banana stools moist.

Do not heap soil around the basin of the stool as this will become their hideout.

Major diseases include fusarium wilt, black leaf streak, cigar-end rot and bacterial wilt. To control, use resistant varieties and disease-free materials (tissue culture and clean suckers).

Harvesting

The time for planting to maturity of a banana depends on area and variety. Maturity indices vary widely among varieties.

Angularities or fullness of fingers, as well as colour change are some of the standard criteria used. Fruits are ready for harvesting 90 to 150 days after fingers start to form.