Julius Njeru from Gaturi area in Murang’a county has been a banana farmer for more than 20 years, a venture he explored after being frustrated by other crops he used to grow.
Njeru says his area is relatively dry and he relied on rain to grow maize and vegetables, but the production was poor.
He decided to try his hand in banana farming, because they can do well with little rainfall and they are not prone to diseases like many other crops. He started with 50 plants and gradually increased the number to 500 pieces.
Initially, he says, he used to sell the bananas to brokers at the farm, but he realised they were exploiting him.
“A broker would come and buy a full banana at Sh150 or Sh200, but he would go and sell it at Sh500 or more” he said.
Njeru later on learnt about a banana farmers’ cooperative society, Saba Saba Banana Growers self-help group, which he joined about 10 years ago and he found a better channel to sell his produce.
“The bananas are bought in kilogrammes and this has been giving me better returns compared to selling it whole” he says.
Njeru is now able to harvest the bananas throughout the year and this gives him constant flow of cash.
Susan Njeri, another farmer from Maragua says bananas have been her source of livelihood for more than 15 years.
She used to grow coffee, but after the collapse of the sector, she opted to grow bananas and the returns have been impressive.
“Banana farming is one of the best and rewarding ventures. I would urge more people to embrace it,” she urges.
With the help of agricultural extension officers, Njeri has been taught how to nurture the crop to get quality produce.
Alex Kamau the self-help group’s chairman says bringing the farmers together has helped consolidate their produce into huge quantities, making it easier to secure the market. He says the group has 1,700 members spread across the county.
They have set two days in a week (Tuesday and Thursday) to take the bananas to the various collection centres from where the buyers pick them.
“Once the bananas are brought in, we weigh them and keep a record for each farmer” he explains.
Kamau says each kilogramme is bought at Sh13, and the farmer gets Sh12 while the remaining balance is used to cater for management expenses.
Collective selling of the produce, he says has also helped farmers earn better prices as middlemen have been locked out from accessing bananas directly from the farms.
“We deposit the money into the farmer’s account a day after the delivery to ensure there is no delay,” he says.
Most of the buyers, he notes, are from Nairobi and they prefer the ripening variety though some still take the cooking and roasting varieties.
“The demand for bananas is very high and we are not able to sufficiently feed the market. I urge more farmers to join in this venture” he adds.
The group has established a close working relationship with the department of agriculture and its officers offer technical advice to the farmers from time to time.
He reveals plans to establish a cottage factory where they will begin to add value to the bananas in efforts to fetch more money.
“We would like to make various products, such as crisps, flour and jam out of the bananas to help us generate more income,” he offers.
The group has received Sh20 million from the National Agricultural and Rural Inclusive Growth Project (NARIGP) to establish a processing factory.
Murang’a county NARIGP Project Coordinator John Waihenya saiys the group has also benefited from an inclusion grant of Sh300,000 to mobilise more members.
They have so far disbursed Sh138 million to more than 400 farmers’ groups in the area to help boost their agricultural productivity and profitability.
“We are supporting a value chain in four products within Murang’a namely bananas, avocado, poultry and dairy,” adds Waihenya.
Kamau underscores the importance of banana farming, saying the crop produces throughout the year and can greatly support the government’s agenda on attaining food security in the country.