For a long period of time, residents of Kerio Valley in Elgeyo Marakwet County had viewed cattle as their main source of income since they considered their soil unsuitable for meaningful agricultural activity.
But it is not the same for Mary Kiptoo from Sambalat village, Marakwet East sub-county, who has diversified into tissue-culture bananas under furrow irrigation as an additional source of income and food.
The mother four has about 1,000 banana tubers in her two acres, which she cultivates alongside finger millet, sorghum and cassava for subsistence use.
“I generate an average of Sh800 from each of the high yielding bananas as opposed to conventional ones that go for less than Sh300,” Mary told Seeds of Gold in an interview.
“Banana farming requires low capital and is less labour intensive unlike maize or even vegetables,” she explained, noting that farmers in the region share some of the tissue-culture banana tubers for planting.
County director of agriculture Peter Isigi said tissue-culture bananas are disease and pest free, enabling farmers to earn better profit.
“The bananas grow uniformly and mature within eight months thus facilitating easy harvesting and marketing earning farmers a lot of income,” explained Mr Isigi.
To increase production, banana farmers in Kerio Valley have set up nurseries for the crop and adapted modern technologies to increase production.
They have also formed cooperative groups to enhance their bargaining power in marketing their produce.
“The new banana orchards can remain in place for 5 to 7 years and the yield can be 32 tonnes per hectare as compared to conventional bananas which give a yield of 14 tonnes per hectare,” explained Mary.
She said Kerio Valley had a high potential area for banana production due to the fertility of the soil and plenty of water following revival of furrow irrigation schemes like Tot and Arror.
More farmers, especially women are investing in banana production due to availability of planting materials and a ready market in the North Rift.
Mr William Kaino, an agricultural consultant in the region, said most farmers in the region have dumped the old banana varieties for the tissue-culture ones, riding on better returns.
He, however, said it was difficult to state the exact number of farmers who have invested in the new variety, as most were sharing the tissue-culture.
Banana farming has changed the life of Mr Joshua Chepting, who 10 years ago was wallowing in abject poverty after he lost all his animals to armed raiders.
“Cattle raids are no longer of any concern to me since crops are of no value to the attackers,” explained Chepting’, a resident of Tot, Marakwet East sub-county, who has adapted modern crop production technologies in his five-acres of banana, paw paw and mango plantation.
The county government has now put in place policies to encourage horticulture farming and marketing of the crop, as well as increased financial allocation to repair roads in the valley to facilitate smooth transport.