Tucked away in the scenic Nyamataro location of Kisii County is a building that looks like any other in the neighbourhood.
To reach it, one has to follow a long winding dirt road. The building has no fence but there are plans to put up one.
A septic tank is also in the initial stages of construction. A seedling nursery is also coming up.
Despite its ordinary look, the building houses a key laboratory that offers banana farmers planting materials that are free of disease, mature fast, have better yield and are safe for human consumption.
This is Track Green Multi-Purpose Company Limited, the first tissue culture laboratory in a region famous for bananas.
Tissue culture is exposing plant tissue to a specific regimen of nutrients, hormones and light under sterile conditions to produce many new crops, each a clone of the original mother plant.
According to Cyrus Nyakundi, the farmer who runs the laboratory, they have a capacity to produce at least 13 million banana tissue culture every year.
“So far, we have only done three million, but we are working to increase our output,” he says.
Developing tissue culture bananas starts with establishment of a plant tissue by sterilising the material and initiating it into culture.
“The tissue is further sub-divided and placed in a medium with plant growth regulators that induce the proliferation of multiple shoots. This process is repeated many times until the number of plants desired is reached,” explains Nyakundi, an Education and Agricultural Extension graduate from the University of Nairobi who further sharpened his knowledge of tissue culture at a horticultural firm in Nairobi, where he worked for many years.
“Then hormones are introduced to induce rooting and the formation of complete plantlets. The plants are then moved from the laboratory to the greenhouses for further development.” He, thereafter, grows the plants in a nursery before they are sold.
Nyakundi says he set it all up in April this year. “I saw a gap in banana seedlings production and exploited it. Cutting shoots from mother bananas to plant is now outdated and insufficient.”
One of the banana varieties that he produces is known as Cavendish. The variety is popular in Europe, especially France.
“Its shelf-life is more than 40 days. Exporters like this variety because it meets the European Union standards, one of which is that its fingers must be at least seven inches,” says Nyakundi, adding that the long shelf-life enables it to be transported to Europe by sea, where it is sold at Sh24 per kilo.
On an acre, a farmer can plant at least 500 stools (stumps or rootstock that produce shoots or suckers) of this variety.
“Once the banana matures, you can harvest six times after every two months. If one bunch weighs 70kg, multiply this by Sh24 for a kilo and the number of times you will harvest to know how much one can earn,” says Nyakundi.
Other varieties propagated at the lab include FHIA-17 and Ng’ombe, which are best for cooking and go for Sh100 per seedling.
Nyakundi opened the lab in Kisii because the region is the largest producer of bananas.
“I started the lab to make it easy for farmers in the region to access quality bananas at affordable prices,” he says, adding that he supplies bananas to at least 22 counties and a well-known politician from Nyanza has purchased at least 6,000 seedlings from his lab.
Nyakundi says he has spent at least Sh51 million, part of which he sourced from donors.
“Most of the money went to biosafety cabinets, three autoclave machines, a virus indexing machine and things like chemicals,” says the farmer, who has 28 employees.
One must have a licence from Kenya Plant health inspectorate Service to operate the facility.
Kenya Bureau of Standards must also certify that the products produced are of high quality.
Other certification must also be received from the Horticultural Crops Development Authority.