Hundreds of banana seedlings sway gently as strong winds blow intermittently on the farm in Ebusyubi village, some 3km from Luanda in Vihiga County.
Sitting on five acres, Wongachi Development Farm hosts thousands of tissue culture bananas that the owner, Prof Martin Obanda, the Director of Research and Production at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Juja, propagates and sells to farmers.
Prof Obanda has literally brought research and extension to his village through the farm. His farm manager, Naboth Monde takes us round the farm.
Out first stop is at a 33m by 8m greenhouse hosting 100,000 seedlings. We dip our feet in a footbath, a measure to control pest and diseases, before entering the greenhouse which has shade nets and metal racks hosting seedlings planted in trays.
“We buy the seedlings, grow them and sell. Currently, we have one-month and three-month old crops,” says Monde.
The farm, according to him, imports the tissue culture seedlings from Rwanda, where Prof Obanda has partnership with a firm that multiplies them.
Monde says they grow ripening banana varieties like Grand Nain, FHIA 17 and FHIA 18 and cooking varieties such as Musa Acuminate, Kisii Ng’ombe and Nusu Ng’ombe.
DEMAND AND WEATHER PATTERN
The seedlings are imported according to the demand and the weather pattern.
The bulk is done from December to February so that they sell them during the long rainy seasons.
“We order at least 50,000 nine-month old seedlings twice a month. In Rwanda, the seedlings are placed in clear plastic perforated containers. They are later packaged in cooling boxes with dry ice to keep them fresh before they are transported by air,” explains Monde, noting each goes at Sh45.
Upon arrival on the farm, the shoots are planted in trays filled with soil and animal manure, and placed in the greenhouse where there is controlled temperature and humidity.
“After seven days we apply the first pesticides, fungicides and foliar feeds,” says Monde.
The shoots remain in the trays for a month, before being transplanted into black polythene pots containing soil, farmyard manure and CAN fertiliser.
They are later placed under a shade net for hardening.
There they take another six weeks before they are ready for sale, with demand doubling during the rainy season. On average, they sell 20,000 tissue culture seedlings a month at Sh150 each.
PESTS AND DISEASES
“Our biggest clients are county governments, in particular, Kakamega, Busia and Migori, agricultural non-government organisations, individual farmers in Kisumu, Vihiga and Kisii,” says Monde, noting the farm is certified by Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services and Horticulture Crops Development Authority.
Prof Obanda says he set up the tissue culture banana seedlings venture in January 2014. His investment was Sh5 million, with the money going on buying seedlings, and the greenhouse, which cost Sh300,000.
But even as the agribusiness grows, with the scientist having recouped his investment, the trade has its fair share of challenges that include pest and disease attack and slow clearance of shoots once they arrive at the airport.
Diseases include leaf spots and leaf rot.