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Growing Bananas

Family name: Musaceae


The banana originated in South Asia region to northern Australia and is popular with most communities in Kenya. Production is scattered all over the country. Only a very small proportion of the Kenyan crop is exported. Most of it is consumed locally. Bananas can be eaten ripe as a dessert or cooked.


The banana plant has a cylindrical, succulent, pseudo stem, with a cylindrical leaf petiole sheath reaching a height of 6-7.5m and arising from fleshy rhizomes or corm. Suckers spring up around the main plant. The eldest sucker replaces the main plant when it fruits and dies, and this process of succession continues indefinitely. Tender, smooth, oblong or elliptic, flesh-stalled leaves numbering 4 or 5 to 15, are arranged spirally, and can be up to 2.7 m long and 60 cm wide. The inflorescence, a transformed wing point, is a terminal spike, shooting out from the heart in the tip of the stem.


Local cultivars in Kenya are ‘Muraru’, ‘Kiganda’, ‘Sukari’ among others and they are adopted to various agro-ecological zones. They can be eaten as dessert or cooked.

Improved cultivars includes, Apple, Gross Michel, Kampala, Dwarf Cavendish, Giant Cavendish, Williams, Grand Nain, Valery, Poyo and Lacatan. Tall varieties are Poyo and Lacatan, while medium varieties include Valery, Paz and Williams.

The recommended banana varieties for export in Kenya are Apple (sweet Banana), Giant Cavendish, Lacatan, Sabaki, Valery, Red Banana (all dessert type), and Uganda Green (cooking type)

Giant Cavendish and Lacatan are resistant to Panama disease and have fruits with blunt tips. The bunch is irregularly shaped. Bracts and male flowers are persistent on the lower part of the male axis. In Poyo the male bracts fall off. Valery is also a Cavendish cultivar,which is more wind resistant than Giant Cavendish. Important varieties are


o   Lacatan

o   Apple

o   Gross Michel

o   Kampala

o   Dwarf Cavendish

o   Uganda Green

o   Giant Cavendish

o   Williams

o   Grand Nain

o   Valery

o   Poyo

o   Paz

o   Muraru

o   Kiganda

o   Sukari

Agro-ecological zones

Banana- growing zones range from Coastal Lands to Lower Highland zones.


Altitudes of below 1800 m above sea level are generally recommended for the production of bananas.


For optimal growth, bananas require a warm humid climate. An average temperature of 20°C to 30°C is required. Below 20°C, normal plant growth is retarded. Lacatan and Valery tolerates cold weather better than other varieties. Cooler areas (higher altitudes) slow down plant development and the inflorescence may also fail to emerge.


Bananas can grow well with an annual rainfall of 1000 to 2500 mm. optimal yields require a well distributed annual rainfall of 1400 mm or more, without long dry spells.


Bananas can be grown in a wide range of soils as long as there is good drainage and adequate fertility. They can tolerate short periods of flooding but do require good soil aeration. Light to medium, well drained loam soil is the best. Fertile deep soils rich in humus should be chosen wherever possible. For best growth, a pH range of 5.5 to 6.5 is recommended.

Suitable Areas

Bananas can be grown successfully in many parts of the country including Kisii, Kakamega, Bungoma, Meru, Murang’a, Embu, Nyeri, Kerio Valley, Kericho ,Baringo, Kirinyaga and the coastal region. They can also be grown in Kitui, Machakos and Makueni districts and also drier areas under irrigation.


Good agricultural practices

International regulations on food safety and social accountability in the production of fresh produce are becoming ever stricter. Consumers are becoming more and more particular about the quality, safety and reliability of the fresh products they buy. The main buying countries require the implementation of GAP. The GAP guidelines aim at producing a product that is safe, environment friendly, socially acceptable and of high quality. The following are the guidelines which are expected to be implemented by the farmers and exporters.

  • Keep up to date farm production records in order to maintain consumer confidence in food quality and safety.
  • Apply proper crop protection strategies in order to reduce the use of chemicals.
  • Observe the required standards during transportation, storage and disposal of pesticides in order to minimize detrimental impact on the environment while conserving nature and wildlife.
  • Observe hygiene requirements during harvesting and post harvest handling of produce.
  • Adhere to regulations of wages and conditions of the employment act.
  • Adhere to environmental protection regulations.

Some buyers of produce require producers to be certified according to specific codes of practice. This involves inspection, auditing by an external/ independent Auditor, and be given a certificate of good compliance to good agricultural practice by a certified body e.g. Africert, Bureau Veritas, SOS, among others. Some of these Codes of practice include EUREPGAP, BRC etc. in Kenya, we have Kenya Standard Code of Practice for horticultural industry registered by the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KS 17580), Kenya Flower Council Code of Practice and Fresh Producers Association of Kenya (FPEAK) Code of practice. In addition Kenya GAP is being developed by FPEAK to be benchmarked with EUREPGAP for ease of interpretation and implementation.

Land preparation

Before planting, deep soil cultivation by ploughing and harrowing is recommended. The fields should be free of trees, bushes and especially perennial weeds.


The spacing depends on the variety, soil fertility level, and rainfall (water availability). The following spacing is recommended under a five-year cycle on a fertile soil with adequate rainfall:

  • Short variety (Dwarf Cavendish, Giant Cavendish) 2.5m × 3m.
  • Medium variety (Valery, Williams) 3.0m × 4.0m
  • Tall variety (Lacatan, Poyo) 4.0m× 4.0.


A planting hole measuring 90 cm ×90 cm × 60 cm is recommended although this may vary depending on water availability. In dry and semi arid areas it is recommended to use larger holes measuring 90 cm × 90 cm × 60 cm. the topsoil and the subsoil should be kept separately. Mix the topsoil with one debe (about 20 kg) of well decomposed manure and 150 g of TPS. Refill the hole with the top soil first followed by the sub soil.

To ensure good anchorage, a sucker or a corm with the eyes facing upward should be placed 30 cm deep in the planting hole. A heavy cover of mulch should be placed around each plant to conserve soil moisture. Under rain fed conditions, planting should be carried out only at the onset of the rains. However, if irrigation water is available, planting can be done throughout the year.

Planting Materials

Clean, healthy planting material consisting of side shoots, or pieces of corm with one to two eyes can be used. Cutting back of the mature shoots encourages the production of side shoots. The material commonly used in Kenya is the sucker and Tissue Culture seedlings.

There are two types of suckers, namely: the sword and the water suckers. The sword sucker emerges from the lower part of the stem, has a well developed base and narrow sword shaped leaves. The water sucker emerges close to the soil surface and has a limited number of roots and broad leaves. The sword suckers are preferred for planting. The larger the sucker, the faster the plants will come into production. Defoliate the suckers before planting.

Tissue Culture

the use of tissue culture plantlets in Kenya is the most recommended method of propagation because of the following advantages.

  • Rapid seedling multiplication
  • Healthy planting materials free of disease and pests.
  • Minimal replacement after planting and immediate continuation of growth.
  • Early bearing/ maturity.
  • Higher yields

Fertilizer and Manure Application

At planting , about 200 g of triple super phosphate (TSP) should be applied per plant. An early and good supply of nitrogen fertilizer is essential to accelerate the growth of pseudo-stems and faster flowering.  To 300 g of calcium ammonium nitrate (CAN) should be distributed around each stool per year, together with 125 g of TSP, which is worked into the soil.

Two to four debes of decomposed farmyard manure is applied per stem per year before the rains. This is applied on the outer diameter of the canopy. A short forked hoe is used to incorporate the manure shallowly and carefully, to ensure no root damage.



Cultivation should always be shallow because a banana plant is shallow rooted. If mechanical weeding is done, care should be taken to avoid any disturbance of the roots. Earthing up of the stem base is required in windy areas.


A well maintained, heavy mulch cover will suppress unwanted weed growth, retain moisture, and provide humus for a good soil structure. Grass, banana leaves, or old pseudo-stems mulch can be used to return the nutrients to the soil. However, the use of old pseudo-stems can encourage banana weevil infestation. The stem should therefore be well chopped and allowed to dry before use.

Pruning and Staking

To provide bigger and higher quality bunches, bananas have to be desuckered regularly to control any unwanted sucker growth. Only three pseudo-stems should be allowed to remain on each corm: one bearing, one half grown, and one just sprouting. Surplus suckers should be removed as early as possible in their development and perhaps used as planting material. Dead leaves should be removed at least twice a year. After harvesting, the pseudo-stem should be cut off from the plant at ground level.

Staking of the fruit bearing pseudo-stemshould be done to prevent breakage caused by heavy bunches. Staking with wood or bamboo requires digging a hole about 40 to 60 cm deep at the base of the stem to install the prop. Tie the bunch to the prop near the portion where the fruit stalk emerges from the stem. Y-sticks can also be used for staking.


Water is needed particularly at flowering. Therefore, in drier areas supplemental irrigation may be necessary during this time.

Wind Break

Bananas are adversely affected by strong wind. Planting in sheltered positions and in blocks, rather than in strips, is recommended. If planted in blocks, the plants provide each other with some protection against the wind.

Fruit Protection

Skin blemishes can ruin the value of the banana bunch. The bract and stem leaves that may rub against the developing fruit need to be removed on a regular basis.

The male flower bud is removed after it has grown 15 cm below the last hand. Bagging developing bunches with polythene bags can be done to protect the fruit. The bags can be clear or colored and are perforated to allow air circulation. Bagged fruit develops three to four days earlier.


In orchards with wider plant spacing, intercropping is possible during the entire cultivation period. Orchards with close spacing can only be intercropped in the first year.


The time for planting to maturity of a banana depends on area and variety. A plant takes roughly 8 to 12 months to mature. Maturity indices vary widely among varieties. Angularities or fullness of fingers, as well as color change are some of the standard criteria used. Immature bananas are very angular but fill out to a rounded shape at full maturity.

Fruits are ready for harvesting 90 – 150 days after fingers start to form. Fingers are considered mature for harvest when they are ¾ round (75% maturity)

Bananas are harvested green at varying stages of maturity depending on market requirement. While harvesting, bunches should never be allowed to fall on the ground after severing from the plant, to avoid fruit damage. For home consumption, the bunch is cut from the stem after fingers begin to turn light green and the edges of the fruit change from angular to round. Bananas harvested at this stage will ripen within one to two week’s time. After harvesting the bunch, the pseudo-stem is cut off with a clean implement at ground level. The cut is covered with soil to avoid easy entry by the banana weevil.


The average yield is 35 to 45 t/ha under good management. The economic lifespan of a banana plantation is 8 to 10 years, after which productivity declines.

Field Handling

Bunches must be handled gently and protected from direct sun. When cutting bunches, padded trays on which the bunch is received should be used. The padding material can be in the form of number of gunny bags or dry banana leaves folded together. Bunches should then be carried carefully on the tray to a central place or a collection shed for grading and packaging. Bunches should be wrapped with protective material (e.g. dry banana leaves) to protect fruits against damage.

Collection Shed

Location of the shed should be accessible to both the farmers and buyers. The design of the shed should have a level of flexibility. Floor should have well designed layout that allows efficient interaction of facilities or activities. This reduces the floor area requirement as well as time and labor costs. It also allows easy cleaning and other activities.

Personal hygiene is important and hence facilities such as toilets and clean water should be at close proximity. All workers should maintain high standards of personal hygiene. Smoking, eating or chewing is prohibited.

Portable clean running water should be availed and appropriately marked and placed to facilitate hygiene in the premises. It is vital to test water for microbial and bacterial contents regularly and records for chemical treatments safely kept. Disposal systems if any waste including all the rejects should be environmentally acceptable.

Loading and dispatch area should be very clean and firm enough to facilitate easy accessibility of any vehicle or operation.

Quality control facilities, procedure, standard and records should be availed per produce type to enhance quality. These facilities include waste buckets, decomposition pit, quality assuarance rulers, coolants, tables etc. a charcoal cooler should be provided in the storage rooms before dispatch.



Undesirable fruits should be removed to improve appearance of the bananas. These include fingers with insect and disease damage such as thrips and rust damage, leaf rub marks, and sever latex staining. Dead flower remains should also be carefully removed.


Bananas for the export market are usually cut into hands. The cut end should be carefully trimmed with a special curved knife. The hands are then washed in clean water followed by a fungicidal treatment. Washing is essential to allow latex flow from the cut crown to be completed before packaging the fruits. Latex stains are usually unsightly when the fruits ripen.After draining excess water, the hands are packed in fiberboard boxes for marketing.


Bananas for the export market should ideally be wrapped with a soft paper and packaged in fiberboard cartons. Hands with small fingers are place in the center of the box. The fruits should not protrude from the packed box.


Bananas should be pre-cooled to a temperature of 12°C to 13°C.


Field heat and the subsequent transport and storage temperatures affect the length of the pre-climacteric period. Pre-cooled bananas are held at low temperature of 13°C. the optimum storage relative humidity is 85% to 90%. Below a temperature of 12°C, most banana cultivars suffer chilling injury. Both ripe and green bananas are susceptible to chilling injury although green ones are slightly more susceptible.


Bananas must be transported to the market while green. In this condition, they can be handled without softening and with relatively little damage. If refrigerated trucks are used for transporting the bananas, the temperature should be maintained at 13°C


Pest and diseases – see banana diseases/pests (separate document)


  1. The list of chemicals is based on EU directive 91/414 and products registered by Pest Control Products Board (PCPB) for use in Kenya. It’s constantly under review and will be updated periodically by deleting banned products and adding new ones.
  2. Consider use of synthetic pesticides before start of flowering and biological control agents between flowering and harvesting to avoid chemical residue detection on produce.
  3. It’s highly recommended that chemicals be alternated after every 2 sprays to avoid resistance build up.
  4. Strictly observe pre-harvest Intervals (PHI) as indicated on the label.
  5. Ensure the product is registered for use on the crop and follow instructions on the label.

Banana Pests and Diseases

Pest Active ingredient Trade name Dosage Application interval (days) Pre-harvest interval (days) Other Remarks
1.      Nematodes (meloidogynespp)

Attack roots of plants causing leisons and make them susceptible to fungal bacteria attack. Affected plants are stunted with yellow leaves. Roots of affected plants have knotty swellings and appear red-brown to black when split




















2-3 times/ yr







Cultural control

§  Use nematode free suckers.

§  Don’t replant a new banana on old field until after one year.

§  Remove volunteer plants

§  Avoid use of maize, cowpeas and sorghums as they are alternative hosts of nematodes

Chemical control

§  Deep planting material in nematicide or hot water at 55°C for 20 minutes to kill nematodes



2.      Banana thrips (hercinothripsbicintus)

Causes silvery or brown patches on frit skin. The fruit becomes unattractive and might also have secondary rots.








Ripcord, Sherpa, Ambush




Bestox, Fastac, Fendona


100ml / 20 l


30-50ml /20 l


120ml /200 l














§  Chemicals should be applied early during bunch development.


§  Always observe pre-harvest intervals.

3.      Banana weevil (Cosmopolitiessordidus)

The larvae make regular tunnels on pseudo-stem and rhizomes. Infected plants collapse and die starting by wilting of young central leaves













0.5-1g/1 m²





2-3 times/yr



Cultural control

§  Use clean planting material for propagation.

§  Don’t leave planting materials over night in the fields, as the weevils may lay eggs on it

§  After harvesting cut stems close to the ground and cover the cut with a layer of earth to prevent entry of the weevil.

§  Cut harvest stems into small pieces to allow faster drying and rotting

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