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Ditching maize for bananas

Crop
 

The Vihiga County Agriculture executive Nicholas Kitungulu (right) together with a Banana farmer in at Itandalo Village in Vihiga county. [Brian Kisanji, Standard]

With the harsh and unpredictable climate and high cost of farm inputs, numerous farmers in Vihiga County are opting for more profitable banana farming over traditional maize and tea cultivation.

Risper Mareba, 39, from Ebusiroli Village in Vihiga, shifted to banana farming after attending a seminar promoting the crop. She remarked, "A team from the government agricultural department started to visit farmers who were still doing maize and advised us to seek alternative crops like banana."

Mareba's half-acre land now boasts over 300 banana stems, a decision driven by better returns compared to maize. She noted, "The scarcity of land is synonymous with our Vihiga county, and planting maize does not reward as such." Previously spending over Sh10,000 on maize farming, she now harvests over 300 bunches of bananas annually, each fetching between Sh500 to Sh1500.

Nimrod Mbeta, 64, from Enyaita sub-location in Luanda sub-county, has also transitioned to banana farming from maize. "With dwindling prices and frustrations from maize and tea crops, the banana option was my best bet," he stated. Mbeta, who marvels at his high banana yields from a small land, now serves as a model farmer. 

 

Mzee Nimrod Mbeta, 64, (right) admires his banana flanked by Elly Odero, a trainer of trainers for farmers who embraced farming farming of Tissue Culture Bananas on April 18, 2024. [Brian Kisanji, Standard]

The initiative to encourage banana farming is a collaboration between the Vihiga County government and the Agriculture Sector Development Support Program (ASDSP). Recently, 1500 tissue culture banana plantlets were distributed to over 300 selected farmers across the county. Nicholas Kitungulu, Vihiga County Agriculture Executive, emphasiSed the importance of farmers caring for the plantlets and working closely with agricultural extension officers for optimal produce.

Banana farming in Vihiga is seen as a means for farmers to adopt climate-smart agriculture, especially in the face of prolonged dry seasons due to climate change. Mary Muema, ASDSP Vihiga county coordinator, highlighted the need for smart farming techniques for successful banana cultivation.

The venture has seen significant growth, with over 9000 acres now dedicated to banana cultivation compared to 3000 acres in 2018. Value addition prospects have also emerged, with the establishment of processing groups like Jitahidi Banana Cottage Processing Group, which received a Banana Crisps Processing machine from the county government and its partners in 2021.

The Vihiga County government has been proactive in supporting banana farmers, including efforts to contain the Banana Xanthomones Wilt (BXW) disease, which threatened the crop in the area.

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