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Bananas sweeten couple's life

EASTERN
By FILEX MURIITHI | January 3rd 2015

Embu, Kenya: Lenson Njeru is a happy man. Once upon a time, he could toil on leased land to fend for his family.

But now, Mr Njeru is content with his quarter-acre piece of land.

At first all he wanted was to catch up with his neighbours in Kiamagoka Village in Kyeni, Embu County, who had already ventured into banana farming.

Now, he has found more than he was looking for. He says, “All I wanted was to harvest like my fellow banana farmers in the area. However, with time, I have improved my farm attracting many farmers from the county and beyond who visit it regularly for education days. After a month, I sell more than 20 bananas each weighing at least 75kgs.” He sells each kilo at between Sh12 and Sh14.

Before venturing into banana farming in 2009, the farmer who manages his three quarter farm with his wife, Editah Muthoni was a coffee farmer.

“We also leased land from as far as Gakwegori, 25km from here to grow maize and beans. Today, I don’t lease land, I depend on my small piece.”

Njeru uprooted his coffee bushes and replaced them with banana stems soon after visiting an Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK) Canon and learnt banana farming techniques during a field day.

“I attended a field education day at the ACK Canon’s farm where I learned banana farming techniques. Immediately, after getting back home, I shared the idea with my wife and started uprooting my 250 coffee stems the following day replacing them with banana stems,” he says.

He adds, “Three quarter of land is very small if not managed well. However, I visited an agricultural extension officer who assisted me in planning my farm that incorporates bananas and three dairy cows.”

Njeru invested Sh6,500 to buy 65 stems of Fia 17, Williams and Gross Michelle banana (widely known as Kampala in the area) varieties to start the venture. He now sells banana seedlings at Sh100 each. Last week, he sold seedlings worth Sh10,000

The father of two says the proceeds from banana farming help pay fees for his firstborn daughter in university and son in high school as well as take care of other family needs.

“The venture helps me offer quality education to my children. Education is the only thing they can inherit from me. My firstborn daughter is a third year student in the university and my second born sat for his KCSE this year. He is waiting to join university.”

When he was a coffee farmer, Njeru harvested 2,000kg of coffee berries every year. He says during that time, the pay was unpredictable and he money after six or more months.

Njeru and other banana farmers in the area formed a self-help group dubbed Mufu Bananas and Marketing Group that helps in marketing their produce.

 

“The group collects our bananas after two weeks. It helps in negotiating with buyers for better prices. Currently, we are selling bananas for export, hence, there is need to provide quality bananas,” he says.

Njeru who practices modern farming methods does not use fertiliser on his farm. Instead, he has directed slurry from his zero-grazing shed into the banana farm.

He faces a major challenge of diseases like wilt and weevils are also menace but he keeps them away using ashes.

Robin Kariuki, an agricultural extension officer based in Kyeni Division, says like many other livestock and crops, bananas need a diligent farmer for optimum yields.

“Diseases like wilt can clear your bananas and thus the farmer should be keen to control it. One can use ashes to control it or pesticides to control pests like weevils that destroy the banana too,” he says, adding that for maximum yields, bananas need enough light, hence, the need to reduce banana leaves and suckers.”


 

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