Daniel smiles broadly as I enter his banana plantation in Maragua, Murang’a County, perhaps because this has been one of his best years.
This year, demand for bananas has been high, according to him, with the farm selling each bunch at between Sh700-Sh1,200.
One of the things that has pushed up demand is increased consumption of the produce, especially the value added products, as families now add banana powder in porridge or blend it with wheat flour to make chapatis.
Bananas are a profitable crop as the pseudostems and fibres are used to make fabrics and mats for decorations.
To make profit from the crop, one should grow tissue culture varieties acquired from certified growers as they are highly productive and more resistant to pests and diseases.
The crop does well in altitudes of 1,800 above sea level and requires warm and humid climatic conditions. Higher altitude areas have colder climatic conditions that slow down the growth of the crop, and the inflorescence may fail to develop.
When planting bananas, the land should be well-prepared and a planting hole measuring 90cm by 90cm by 60cm in depth and a spacing of 3 by 3 metres used depending on the variety.
While digging the hole, it’s advisable to separate the topsoil from the subsoil, which is later mixed with well rotted manure before refilling the hole. The crop takes eight to 15 months to mature depending on the variety.
Most farmers, however, find it challenging in controlling or managing banana stools, which affects production. To ensure maximum production, only three pseudo stems should be allowed on each stool.
Remove unwanted suckers regularly by cutting them at the ground level or destroying the heart of the suckers without detaching it from the mother plant.
Desuckering can also be achieved by pouring kerosene on the heart of the suckers. During pruning, one should ensure at the time of the harvest of the first crop that the set sucker will become ready for the next ratoon crop.
Bananas are shallow-rooted but high feeders hence the need to provide adequate nutrients to the crop. Removal of dead leaves is also essential as this acts as a hiding and breeding ground for the pests.
One of the diseases that affect banana plants is cigar-end rot, which is fungal. It is a common disease in most banana growing areas which affects the developing fingers.
In most cases, it causes a dry rot of the flower end that produces an ash grey wrinkled lesion on the fingers. The disease may spread during transportation and storage.
In most cases, the pathogen causing it enters the banana fingers through the flower, causing a dry end rot that spreads from the flower into the tip of the immature banana fingers.
Sometimes the tips of the immature fruits separate upwards. The disease can also spread by the irrigation water and the farm implements.
The infection is common during the early days of fruit emergence and spreads along with the growth of the fruits, causing the blackening of the banana skin.
The tips of the infected fingers end up being covered by powdery mass of spores resembling grey ash end of cedar.
It is a common disease in warm moist conditions, especially in high altitude areas and plantations with excessive shade.
The disease can be controlled by frequent removal and burning of the dead flower parts and the infected fruits to prevents its spread.
One should also ensure the irrigation water is free from the pathogen to prevent the spread of the diseases. Cigar end rot is effectively controlled by covering the flower with the fruiting bag before the hands emerge.