Taita Taveta banana farmers raise standards, eye global market
Jimmy Musyoki and Daniel Mumo have been small scale banana farmers in Taita Taveta county for years. But the two have nothing to celebrate as every year they record huge losses owing to a myriad of challenges facing the sub sector.
The two, like any other farmer in the country, have been in banana farming, but grapple with low income, stiff competition and lack of markets for the produce.
The farmers complain of market dominance and manipulation by cartels and unscrupulous traders in addition to price fixing and market segmentation —the obstacles farmers moan has contributed to low earnings among other miseries.
“I have been a banana farmer for the last 10 years. The biggest challenge the Taveta farmers have been facing is the lack of an established market since we sell most of our produce locally. We are also facing tremendous competition from Tanzania, whose produce is attractive in the Taveta market due to low price and good quality,” Mumo said.
But in what could be an enormous windfall to the county farmers, a consortium of commercial and non-commercial players have joined hands to commercialise banana farming in the county.
Value chains under the leadership of the Micro Enterprise Support Programme Trust (MESPT), an initiative of the Kenya and Danish Governments have introduced a new and fast-maturing variety and equally plans to establish a processing factory.
The initiative is being supported through a Danish-funded five-year plan dubbed Danida Market Development Partnership (DMDP) that targets to recruit 2,000 farmers from the region for the project. So far, the project has received finances to the tune of Sh150 million from Danida with additional funding of Sh75 million expected soon.
A Danish-based international commercial partner —Orana A/S that has presence in 45 countries and a leading producer of natural extracts and fruit based food service products plans in the next two years to establish a processing factory in the county. Orana A/S, also suppliers of fruit based raw materials and semi-manufactures target to buy and process the crop for its global customers.
This places banana farmers in the county in a better position to benefit from premium prices as value added products are traded globally.
The company managing director Niels Osterberg states that the Taveta banana project will deliver a socially and environmentally responsible fruit pulp processing factory with an annual processing capacity estimated at 40,000 metric tonnes.
“My company is committed to industrial development of Taveta. We will establish an environmental conscious banana factory that will create jobs and significantly reduce waste,” said Osterberg. He noted that the focus will be on organic bananas and that working with the DMDP consortium members, they will teach the local farmers “tricks” that will help them improve the yields.
Rebecca Amukhoye, the Chief Executive Officer of MESPT says the company is working with local organisations to assist farmers embrace a new variety — Grand Nain, as well as adhering to good agricultural practices in order to realise high production. The variety is being introduced in the region for the first time and bears fruits in 12 months time.
Amukhoye revealed that Wanda Agricultural Group Limited is the local partner helping the farmers to establish the crop and aggregate it for processing once Orana establishes the factory in the county in 2023.
Since the project was launched in June 2021, over 1,200 farmers have been recruited, grouped into clusters of 50 farmers each with a target of establishing 40 clusters once the project is fully rolled out.
Each cluster is assigned a MESPT farm estate advisor who is aiding in capacity building, to help the farmers embrace the best farming practices.
According to Amukhoye, 500 farmers around Lake Jipe have embarked on growing the bananas organically for the project.
“We are working backwards. Once the crop estates are fully established by 2023, Orana A/S will establish a processing factory in a site already identified in the region,” Amukhoye said.
She added, “Wanda Limited are already in the process of constructing some aggregation centres to help bulk and grade the produce. The company has already acquired the land and is working on the logistics of connecting it to the grid according to Marion Atieno, the Managing Director of Wanda Ltd.”
According to Atieno, the project is targeted to plant 500,000 trees, with each farmer getting 250 seedlings sourced from locally established nurseries. “Orana is our nuclear customer, and we will also target other customers since we expect to get various grades for different markets and diversify to other crops such as Hibiscus,”. Atieno said.
Wanda Ltd has created an online system to recruit and contract farmers and MESPT will also educate the farmers on how the digital contracting system will work among other services.
Musyoki, a former lecturer in Tanzania who ventured into banana farming after retiring says that addressing the market challenge will benefit farmers immensely. Lack of sufficient rains affects the production of the other crops such as beans and maize in the region, leaving bananas as the only option for many farmers. He has put an acre under the new variety.
“There is no market for the bananas we produce and I only sell to local women who later trade in the area market where the price is not good. The rest is consumed by the family,” said Musyoki.
Taita Taveta is today’s the second largest banana producer in Kenya second to Meru, according to a recent study by Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO). Banana production in Taita Taveta grew from 5 per cent in 2018 to 9.7 per cent in 2020.
Currently, there are over 6,000 banana farmers in the county, with a majority of them from Taita and Taveta Sub-Counties.