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TC Banana not for small scale farmers, expert says PDF พิมพ์
เขียนโดย Henry Neondo   
Wednesday, 12 December 2007

December 11, 2007 By Henry Neondo

The practice of small- scale farming does not augur well with tissue culture banana, an expert at Kenya Agricultural Research Institute has said. Speaking to journalists who had visited the National Horticultural Centre based at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) Thika, Dr Benjamin Chege said, for farmers to break even in high performing Tissue Culture (TC) banana, one needed to have a quarter of an acre on average, a minimum of 80 stems of bananas.

The future of TC banana, says Chege, lies in reaching out to farmers in areas where farmers still possess large chunks of land. “Central Province should not be in the equation”, he said.

Right now, farmers in eleven districts of Meru, Chuka, Muranga, Maragwa, Kiambu, Nyeri, Thika, Machakos, Bungoma, Kakamega and Vihiga are firmly into planting tissue cultured banana, most due to members of parliament from these areas using constituency development fund to set up outlets for tissue culture bananas.

But the problem, says Chege, is that the land holdings is too small as to give yields sufficient enough to develop, satisfy and sustain a market.

“Small scale production can never solve problems associated with effective production to meet demand”.

He added further that due to poor infrastructure, 80 percent of all banana transported to markets get wasted. This is partly due to poor roads, lack of equipment like storage and ripening facilities and poor means of marketing the banana crop.

Compared to countries in the Latin America such Pueto Rico, where on average banana farmers have on average 400 acres under banana, Chege said, Kenyan farmers must stop being possessed with land per se as a factor that would solve their problems.

He said there is need to shift paradigms and make people be getting concerned with what the land was able to produce for them and stop the craze by peasants desire to possess pieces of land that are not economical.

In areas such as Kiambu district in central Kenya with majority of farmers practising small scale farming, farmers are finding tissue cultured banana profitable, but only as supplementing the income from such horticultural crops include kale (sukuma wiki), spinach, green pepper (pili hoho), tomatoes, lettuce, coriander (dania), potatoes, cucumber, cauliflower, celery, broccoli, corgett and eggplant. Started in 1998, Tissue cultured banana has had fast penetration rate among farmers.

For example, according to Dr Florence Wambugu, Executive Director, Africa Harvest International, a Nairobi based NGO, the project had met their expectations of technology introduction with a 15 percent initial penetration in the first year, translating to the 1,000 households.

The NGO targeted to introduce 6,000 households by end of last year and even bigger number gauging from the clamour the TC banana is getting from farmers.

Africa Harvest had been working in parts of Central Province of Kenya helping resource poor farmers with ideas towards alleviating poverty through the TC banana technology through a Rockefeller Foundation funded project.

Africa Harvest in conjunction with farmers from the area have earlier analyzed the production costs of their current crops including time spent, inputs and energy, and compared this to the input and output from the banana.

After the analysis, farmers themselves realized that the returns from the TC banana were better than their crops plus, but note that this could best be optimised by pulling together to create critical mass of produce and better bargain for their produce. She says that this study helped them develop a strategy that drew the first 1000 farmer household into a project they ran in 2004.

Confirming success in other areas, Wambugu points out that over the last seven years, TC banana biotechnology has benefited 500,000 Small Scale banana producers in .

But it has now dawned on scientists that to jumpstart banana crop as an industry, the government must look at all bottlenecks and adopt a holistic approach to build its credibility.

It must be willing to subsidize small-scale farmers from the beginning by offering seeds at reduced costs.

To have a banana agro-based industry, Wambugu says, stakeholders must aggressively engage policy makers.

Stakeholders in the TC banana ‘industry’ say that it is time the government set policies to regulate banana as an industry in .

According to the Director Business Development & Finance at Africa Harvest Mr. Michael Njuguna a coherent government policy is the only way to rejuvenate and bring order to banana farming.

Njuguna contends that the government has paid much attention on export cash crops such as coffee and tea at the expense of food crops like the banana, which it has never recognized as a commodity on its own rights.

Food crops, such as the banana, could feed the rural communities generate sustainable income as well as being nurtured for export.

The Director of Top Notch, a banana marketing company Mr. Ben Kageche insists that an as a matter of urgency, a banana board and banana associations that can govern banana as an industry has to be set up.

He says that such intervention will rank it with other cash crops and enable its farmer’s start receiving incentive from the government.

Wambugu says can learn from , which is the regional leader in banana industry. Indeed, she says, if the three East African countries combined effort, they could together tap into the regional and international market like the Middle East, European countries and where banana is in high demand.

She says that the proceeds from horticulture is only 20% as the middlemen set abnormally low prices and will usually pay farmers only after deducting their own expenses and paying themselves.

The formation should include stakeholders like Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (KEPHIS) - for regulating TC banana seedling production and laboratories, farmer associations, traders, nursery owners and Horticultural Development Authority (HCDA) who in collaboration would set up standards for the industry.

However, for the prospects to be explored, all stakeholders must also perceive the banana as a potential commodity.

Farmers have used the crop for home consumption and ceremony for many years but unfortunately only a little opportunistic selling has gone on through middlemen in many Kenyan regions.

As a result, national banana marketing systems in have been non-existent; therefore, the crop has not realized its full potential both in the internal and external markets.

Furthermore, extension, training and marketing should be regulated.  The regulating body could adopt the value chain approach where the need is first created then farmer capacity build to meet that need and link farmers to the market.

In for example, the government designates different geographical areas to different food crop and provides storage.

Njuguna draws parallel to the ‘Banana countries’ like and Caribbean Islands where the banana is a big time industry with huge companies such as PANA springing up to support the industry.

© 2007 Africa Science News Service

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