Holding a yellow polythene bag in his right hand, John Rukwaro stood near one of the 600 banana plants he grows on five acres in Nyeri and examined the fruit for a few seconds.
He then covered it carefully with the yellow bag and sealed the mouth.
Rukwaro practices bagging technology, where he covers the tissue culture banana fruits to protect them from bacterial and fungi infections like Cigar end rot and Panama, a type of Fusarium wilt.
“I learned the technology in Israel in May last year during a visit,” says the farmer. “On the farm we visited, the farmer was practising the technology to increase yields and curb spread of diseases.”
Upon his return to Kenya, he bought several polythene bags and with his workers, he covered the young fruits. He has been practising the technology since then, perfecting it.
“I use the normal polythene bags of any colour but not black because it absorbs a lot of heat. I cover mainly the younger fruits to prevent them from getting infections that spread fast. The moisture trapped in the perforated polythene bags also helps the bananas to mature faster and grow bigger,” he says.
John Wambugu, an agricultural officer at the Wambugu Agricultural Centre in Nyeri, notes that bagging helps to create a micro-climate that maintains a high temperature and prevents chill damage
“The micro-climate hastens growth of the fruits and makes them to mature faster.”
Wambugu says that bagging technology in the country has only been adopted by big banana farmers who export the fruits.
BENEFITS OF BAGGING
There are two types of bagging. First there is one which is done when the plant bracts have already fallen and fruits have started developing.
Second, early bragging is done when there is no fruit yet. Wambugu recommends early bagging.
“Early bagging prevents the fruits from contracting diseases at an early stage and they absorb enough moisture that makes them mature faster. When bagging is done late, the fruits will not attract plenty of moisture to make them mature faster.”
Rukwaro ventured into banana farming in November 2013 after retiring as an accountant in the banking industry and later attended training at the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation in Thika and Wambugu farm in Nyeri.
He injected into the business, Sh200,000 from his retirement package, using the money to prepare the farm, buy fertiliser and some 600 Grandis tissue culture seedlings.
To grow the plantlets, Rukwaro digs a 3 by 3 feet hole, which he fills with soil, manure and some DAP fertiliser.
“I then plant the seedlings ensuring that their nursery soil is not lost,” explains Rukwaro.
He, thereafter, mixes a nematicide with water at a ratio of 1:1 and applies it round the plant to prevent diseases.
“I normally water the seedlings twice a week with 20 litres at each time. I add animal manure after two months, remove weeds and spray regular to curb diseases.”
His bananas produce bunches weighing up to 80kg, thanks to the bagging technology. He sells the bananas in Nyeri and in Nairobi at between Sh300 to Sh500 depending on the size and weight.
In a month, he is able to take in between Sh50,000 to Sh80,000.
The bananas are ready for harvest from 12 to 14 months. The second harvest is done after every four months until the suckers die.