Going banana about banana: Ministry, stakeholders come up with banana growing strategic plans

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Nairobi. October 28, 2013. Banana is undoubtedly one of the main dishes in menus gracing dining tables across the world. May it be ripe or cooked a banana is always a welcome dish.

Currently placed at number three after maize and potato in the Kenya food chain, the banana is well placed to compete with these two after the launch of two strategy documents tailored to chart the way forward on its development and promotion.

The launch conducted during an inaugural banana conference at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute headquarters in Nairobi on 23rd October 2013 themed ‘fostering partnerships for an improved banana subsector in Kenya’ attracted hundreds of horticulture industry stakeholders.

Stakeholders included the Ministry of Agriculture representatives, agricultural research institutes, non-governmental organizations, regional bilateral institutions, development partners, financial institutions, farmer organizations and innovators.

The two documents were the National Banana Development Strategy set to govern the subsector from this year 2013 to 2016 and the Banana Growers Association of Kenya (BGAK) Strategic Plan for year 2013 to 2018.

The stakeholders sought to promote the importance of the banana not only as a big contributor towards food security for human beings but also as animal feed and other value addition products from its peels and barks.

Various banana products displayed during the launch include flour, beer, crisps, wine, dried vegetables and various innovative artifacts from the barks.

Highlighting the issues in the National Banana Development Strategy document Agriculture Assistant Director Patrick Onchieku said the banana was a promising enterprise if the strategic nine issues plaguing the banana sub-sector highlighted in this particular document were tackled holistically as per the proposed interventions.

The nine issues the document seeks to tackle include weak legal framework, unavailability of high quality planting materials, low productivity, pests and diseases, low level of value addition, lack of adequate trade development, lack of banana suitability map, inadequate farmer organizations which leads to exploitation by middlemen and lack of adequate information on financial assistance.

On the other hand the BGAK Strategic Plan seeks to improve coordination of all actors and service providers in the banana industry for increased operational efficiency and effectiveness and improved socio-economic wellbeing of banana stakeholders in the commodity value chain.

On the sidelines of the conference, KARI assistant director Dr Lusike Wasilwa pointed out that nothing from the banana plant should go to waste. She said that currently banana produces 100,000 tonnes of the fruit annually raking in about Sh23 billion of the total horticulture income but if the crop was taken with the seriousness it deserves this can help grow the industry to a multi-trillion shilling industry.

“We have fantastic climate in Kenya and people willing to work. Why then are we sitting on gold which in this case happens to be the banana?” she posed.

Kenya has about 165 banana varieties which have a lot of potential in the insatiable international demand.

She says that KARI has started training farmers to look at the banana from the sleeping money making giant point of view.  “We have started training to enhance their communication skills to enable the end user understand the importance of the banana,” she adds.

During the conference KARI displayed a hefty 120 kg banana bunch and with the current price at about Sh20 this means the farmer would get approximately Sh 2400 from a single banana stem.

Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Felix Koskei in a speech read on his behalf by the Ag. Director, Policy and External affair Rebecca Wahome noted that despite being ranked number fruit in Kenya and contributing about 50 per of the total revenue from all fruits, the farmers should focus and invest more in value addition of the banana in order to maximize its potential.

“There exists potential for value addition activities and employment opportunities along its value chain and there are several interested stakeholders in this enterprise whose promotional efforts if well harnessed can greatly improve the development of the banana industry,” he said.

By Ann Munjuga

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