Banana school a food security breakthrough
Posted Tuesday, September 17 2013 at 20:11
Benson Muriuki, a father of two, incurred losses from low farm yields for many years. He planted bananas that were occasionally attacked by pest and did not mature well.
“I could not adequately support my family and had to rely on other jobs to make ends meet,” he says.
Mr Muriuki’s story is similar to that of many banana farmers whose output, according to the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (Kari), has declined in the past two decades due to numerous production challenges.
Yet the banana remains Kenya’s most important fruit crop according to a study by Kari. It has an annual production of more than one million tonnes, and is grown for domestic consumption as well as for export. It is thus a major contributor to Kenya’s economy and food security.
Other studies have also confirmed that increase in banana yields could go a long way in eradicating poverty and improving the living standards of rural households.
But Kenya’s banana yields remain among the lowest in the world. Farmers harvest between five to 10 tonnes, compared to the national estimated potential of about 30 to 40 tonnes per hectare.
It is against this backdrop that Kari, with support from the Ford Foundation, rolled out a project dubbed Farmer Field School (FFS) approach whose goal was to increase banana production in Imenti South district in Meru County from July 2012 to 2013.
The project resulted in increased yields of 48 tonnes per hectare, which exceeded even Kenya’s estimated potential.
In addition, farmers’ profits increased to Sh308,500 up from Sh121,000 per year. They even opened a new market in the area dedicated to selling bananas.
Benson Muriuki, one of the project’s beneficiaries, is a satisfied farmer. “In fact, I have uprooted my coffee plantation and replaced it with the banana, which is currently among the leading income earners in the region. And my family is well taken care of,” he says.
“Though piloted in just one region, this approach could yield similar results in other parts of the country if replicated,” said Margaret Muchui, a banana specialist from Kari, who headed the project.
Dr Muchui says the project team first selected a few farmers whom they trained on banana production.
“They also became trainers and passed the knowledge to other farmers.”
According to Kari, the Farmer Field School approach has encouraged farmers to plant different banana varieties, such as Grand Nain and Williams, which are on high demand among consumers and thus profitable.