Thursday, December 13, 2012

Investor banks on large-scale banana farming to earn millions

By FRANKLINE AKHUBULA akhubulafrank@yahoo.com

Unlike in Uganda where bananas are cultivated commercially because they are the staple food, the business is still gathering pace in Kenya as maize remains the preferred crop.

But ten months ago, Stephen Murithi Njeru set out to exploit large-scale banana farming in his one- and a-half hectare piece of land at Gikuuri village, Runyenjes, Embu county. 

“Since most of my life is consumed in Nairobi as an employee in industrial area, I wanted to grow any crop that would require minimal supervision but with good returns. At first I thought of using the land to plant nappier grass that could serve as dairy feed but after a second thought, I realised I would rather invest in something else on the land with good returns and budget for Sh20,000 to buy cow feed per month. After a survey, I discovered that bananas would be more viable,” says Mr Njeru who works as a human resource employee. 

Mr Njeru told Money he was privileged because at the time he was seeking information on banana farming, there were agricultural experts and a non governmental organisation which was promoting banana farming as business in his home area.

Under the umbrella of Gatumbi self help group, he sought advice from its coordinator who gave him assurance that bananas would produce high yields and returns on his farm. 

Today, over 800 banana stems are flourishing in his farm 10 months after planting.

The proceeds from the crop will augment his dairy farming income. He says each seedling cost him Sh130 bringing the total amount incurred on seedlings to Sh104,000.

In addition, he also used about Sh130,000 on fertiliser, manure and labour. 

When ready for harvest in four months time from today, Mr Njeru will harvest at least 700 bunches of bananas.

A bunch weighs 60 kilogrammes or more on average therefore Mr Njeru claims he will harvest at least 42,000 kilogrammes of the fruit.

Currently, a kilogramme of bananas attracts Sh16 meaning that he is poised to pocket about Sh672,000 or more in March next year.  

After the first harvest, he will wait for 30 months for the next harvest since bananas take 15 months to mature.

By the end of the last generation of the crop, Mr Njeru will generate about Sh2 million profit from his farm.  

He says it is not about the land is but what you can grow on it and get good returns as he challenges the youth to embrace agribusiness since it pays.  

To monitor his farm, he has employed a permanent worker who earns Sh7,000 per month besides several farm-hands who make between Sh250 to Sh300 per day for rendering services like weeding.

“Banana growing is more advantageous because it needs less human attention in terms of labour after weeding and it is almost a disease-free crop. I want to partner with other farmers so that in future we start processing bananas for both local and foreign markets,” he says.

But just like any other agribusiness, the biggest challenge about it is that there are few experts serving in the field.

“Very few youths want to venture into agricultural studies in colleges. I wish they realised the potential in agriculture and take up relevant courses to commercialise farming in this country,” he says

The 42-year-old says modernising banana farming could be one of the best retirement projects for male workers.

We should think of doing such business upon retirement and not opening small shops like most our fathers used to do when they retired.

You better start investing in opportunities that are viable when you retire,” adds Mr Njeru.

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