By Marion Wagaki
Banana factory project whets farmers’ appetite for new variety in Taita Taveta
Orana A/S, which has a presence in 45 countries, is partnering with local firm Wanda Agricultural Group on the agribusiness project that will see 2,000 contracted local farmers initially supply 31,500 tons out of the 40,000 metric tons of bananas needed to get the factory in Taveta running.
The rest of the supplies will come from a 300-acre nuclear farm run by Orana.
This initiative is being implemented under a Danish-funded Danida Market Development Partnership (DMDP) that seeks to promote sustainable business development and create employment opportunities in developing countries.
Micro Enterprise Support Programme Trust (MESPT), an initiative of the Kenyan and Danish governments, is the local development partner on the project funded by DANIDA.
Apart from capacity building and helping farmers get global accreditation to access global markets, MESPT will also educate the farmers on how the digital contracting system will work.
Since it was launched in June 2021 last year, the project has recruited over 1,200 farmers, grouped into clusters of 50 each, with a target of 40 clusters once the project is fully rolled out.
Each cluster is assigned a MESPT farm estate adviser to guide the farmers on the best farming practices.
“These experts work closely with the county ward agriculture officer since the county government of Taita Taveta is also a key stakeholder with whom MESPT has entered a collaborative MoU,” Rebecca Amukhoye, the chief executive officer of MESPT, said.
Ms. Amukhoye said 500 farmers have embarked on growing the bananas organically for the project around Lake Jipe
“We are working backwards. Once the crop estates are fully established by 2023, Orana will establish a processing factory in a site already identified,” she said.
Wanda is helping the farmers to establish the crop and aggregate it for processing once Orana establishes the factory in the Taveta sub-county in 2023.
The company’s managing director, Marion Atieno, said the recruitment of the 2,000 farmers will be completed by next year when the construction of the aggregation centre for bulking and grading of the produce is complete.
“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,” Ms. Atieno said.
Wanda has created an online system to recruit and contract farmers. Once a farmer opens an account, he or she selects the preferred market contract.
The project is promoting the growing of the fast-maturing Grand Nain variety, which is being introduced in the region for the first time. The banana variety bears fruits in 12 months.
The project has set a target of planting 500,000 trees, with each farmer getting 250 seedlings sourced from locally established nurseries.
Daniel Mumo, a farmer from Njukini village in Taveta Sub-County, who planted the new variety last year on his two-acre farm, is optimistic that the new initiative will help address the challenges of the banana market.
“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,” Mr Mumo said.
He said there was also a need to help farmers with irrigation systems and the formation of cooperatives so that they can increase production and get new markets.
Jimmy Musyoki, a former lecturer in Tanzania who ventured into banana farming after retiring, has put an acre under the new variety, attracted by the prospects of better market opportunities.
“There is no market for the bananas we produce and I sell to local women for the local market where the price is not good. The rest goes to family consumption,” Musyoki said.
Taita Taveta is the second-largest banana producer in Kenya after Meru, according to a recent study by Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO). Banana production in Taita Taveta grew five percent in 2018 compared to 9.7 percent in 2020.
Currently, there are over 6,000 banana farmers in the county. The current acreage under banana farming stands at 4,104 hectares, having increased from 2, 080 hectares in 2017.
The county’s annual banana production in 2020 was 62,580 tonnes, which goes to local consumption, and regional and national banana trade.