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Hope for farmers as Koreans go bananas for Kenyan fruit

FINANCIAL STANDARD
By Stanley Ongwae | May 18th 2021
James Nyabando, a banana retailer at Moitunya in Nyamira County checks out one of the bunches for sale in his make-shift shed. Banana farmers from Kenya are set for good business from export of the product to South Korea. [Stanley Ongwae, Standard]

Seated on a wooden bench near his makeshift shed at the roadside along the Kisii-Nyamira-Kericho Highway, James Nyabando patiently waits for someone to buy his bunches of green bananas.

Since morning, he has sold only one bunch. His prices range from Sh700 for the biggest bunch weighing around 60kg to around Sh300 for the medium-sized one weighing around 30kg.

Most of the customers who buy his cooking type bananas are motorists on transit from or to Kisii, Nyamira or Kericho towns.

He is not a farmer himself but he buys from growers and resells at a profit margin.

“This is not a bad business venture because I make a good margin. But today business is slow,” Nyabando tells The Standard.

One of his main suppliers of the banana is Lukas Moganda from Moitunya Village, about 50 metres from Nyabando’s roadside shed.

Moganda has a total of over 800 stems of green bananas in his half-acre farmland.

On average, he can harvest up to 50 bunches every week, which he sells to local retailers like Nyabando and some brokers who transport produce to Nairobi where there is a richer market. But his biggest challenge is the low prices the produce fetches due to low market and exploitation from brokers.

Farm prices for the biggest bunch that can weigh around 70kg range from Sh600 to Sh700 while for the small type weighing around 30kg can go for as little as Sh250.

On his farm, Moganda grows the Ng’ombe variety of bananas, besides the Gros Michel type which are the commonest cultivars of green bananas in the region.

The prices are almost similar across Nyamira and Kisii Counties where banana farmers mostly sell their produce at near throw-away prices. For example, Moganda’s story is not any different from that of Evans Onsinyo, a farmer from Suneka Bogiakumu whose two-acre banana plantain has not given him good cash returns due to the declining market.

But even with the underlying challenges the two farmers and many others could be facing, there is a glimmer of hope for them in the international market after the Korean Republic opened up a fresh market for Kenya’s green bananas and broccoli.

According to the letter from the Ministry of Industrialisation, Trade and Enterprise Development to the Council of Governors, counties have been challenged to take up the market opportunity for their farmers who grow the products.

The Ministry, in its communication to the governors, banana export volumes were still dismal and there was a need for enhanced efforts to have all counties interested in the business to do a quick follow-up on certification.

“For acquisition of phytosanitary conformity certifIcates (certification requirement on any farm produce meant for the export market), you are advised to refer any interested counties to the Managing Director of the Kenya Plants Health Inspectorate Services (Kephis),” the letter read in part.

Increase production

Such opening is a great blessing for local farmers like Moganda who otherwise were on a verge of losing hope on the crop due to lack of marketability.

David Orori, a chief officer for trade at Nyamira County says the opportunity has reignited a fresh need to increase the production of bananas and even ventures into broccoli farming.

“We have no justification why our farmers should not grab the opportunity. However, we now have to draw a major focus on sensitising them on the production of quality produces that can pass the international certification standard,” Orori says.

The country has an estimated annual production of 1.1 million metric tonnes of green bananas where an estimated 390,000 small-scale farmers play a larger part in the production, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) 2014 report titled Food Loss Assessments. Of the total production of bananas in the country, 60 per cent of it all is the green bananas that are mainly for cooking while the 40 per cent is the dessert variety according to Techno Serve(TNS).

While Meru County is taking lead in the production of bananas at around 40 per cent, followed by Kirinyaga and Tharaka Nithi counties at 21 and 19 per cent respectively. A FAO report shows that Kisii, Nyamira, Bungoma and Kakamega counties are the largest producers of green bananas which are now being sought after in the newly opened market in South Korea.

The three leaders in banana production mainly venture into dessert bananas. With the fresh prospects, Kenya joins the league of top African exporters of bananas behind Cote d’Ivoire and Cameroon.

FAO’s Banana Market Review report indicated that in 2019 alone, Cote d’Ivoire exported a total of 411,000 tonnes of bananas with Cameroon also selling a total of 167,000 tonnes outside its borders.

Kenya on its part exported a total of 100 tonnes for two years: 2016 and 2017.

Nyamira Governor Amos Nyaribo while welcoming the news of the prospective banana market said the Lake Region, Western and South Rift counties are going to be the greatest beneficiaries. This is after the completion of a Sh7 billion investment of an international agricultural industrial park in the county.

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