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It is common to spot rickety trucks in Karangi Village of Gatanga, Murang’a County, crisscrossing the chilly hamlet, picking up avocado fruits in the evenings to be transported to Nairobi ready for export.

On the dusty and bumpy feeder roads, it is hard to miss the rotting fruits usually rejected by the aggregators, due to immature harvesting or low quality standards.

And driving along the Thika-Sagana highway, which cuts across the county, avocado seedlings dot the road, and traders are making a killing selling the grafted Hass and Fuerte avocado varieties for Sh150 to Sh400 per piece. Business is booming, going by the number of stopovers travellers make at the nurseries.

Most (80%) of the acreage under avocado is planted with Fuerte followed by Hass, Pinkerton, Ettinger, Reed, Simmonds and Puebla (Mugambi, 2002).

The common rootstock cultivars are Fuerte and Puebla (Griesbach, 2005).

Most registered nurseries that propagate avocado in Rift Valley (31), Central (29) and Eastern (23) Provinces whereas Western, Nyanza, Coast and Nairobi Provinces have between 1 and 6 (HCDA, 2004; Griesbach, 2005).Most (80%) of the acreage under avocado is planted with Fuerte followed by Hass, Pinkerton, Ettinger, Reed, Simmonds and Puebla (Mugambi, 2002).

Several kilometres away in Kiamutiga Village, Tetu in Nyeri County, it is the same script, but with different players. Mr Jesse Mworia, of Forest Edge Nurseries, said business was good. Going by the trends across several counties, including Murang’a, Meru, Embu, Nakuru, Nyeri, Kiambu, Trans Nzoia, Kisii and new entrants Kakamega and Uasin Ngishu, an avocado revolution is happening.

This nutritionally complete fruit that is a treasure trove of essential vitamins and minerals, is literally on every farmer’s mind.

Even the populous maize growing Rift Valley has joined the bandwagon.

And stung by the avocado bug, many farmers are transitioning from subsistence farming to the high-value export market through contract farming. Murang’a County leads in avocado production, accounting for 57 per cent of what is produced by the counties. It produces

It produces mostly the Hass and Fuerte varieties. Hass takes 20 per cent, while Fuerte 80 per cent of the export market. Duke, Pueble and G6 are for the domestic market.

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With benchmarking activities by newly entrant counties into avocado producing regions at its peak, avocado is poised to be the next “gold”. Smart Farmer Magazine recently caught up with the Deputy Governor of Uasin Gishu, Mr Daniel Chemno, and his team who had travelled to Murang’a on an avocado farming fact-finding mission.

“We want to change from being branded the food basket to the money basket due to this fruit,” said Mr Chemno. According to him, Uasin Gishu had an elaborate plan to turn around the fortunes of avocado farmers. The county has set aside about Ksh20 million to improve the status of the fruit.

“We are currently working with contract farmers and large scale avocado producers to transform farming, which is undergoing a myriad of challenges,” he added.

The county is using extension services and whereas Western, Nyanza, Coast and Nairobi Provinces have between 1 and 6 (HCDA, 2004; Griesbach, 2005). Several kilometres away in Kiamutiga Village, Tetu in Nyeri County, it is the same script, but with different players. Mr Jesse Mworia, of Forest Edge Nurseries, said business was good.

Going by the trends across several counties, including Murang’a, Meru, Embu, Nakuru, Nyeri, Kiambu,Trans Nzoia, Kisii and new entrants Kakamega and Uasin Ngishu, an avocado revolution is happening.

This nutritionally complete fruit that is a treasure trove of essential vitamins and minerals, is literally on every farmer’s mind.

Even the populous maize growing Rift Valley has joined the bandwagon. And stung by the avocado bug, many farmers are transitioning from subsistence farming to the high-value export market through contract farming. Murang’a County leads in avocado production, accounting for 57 per cent of what is produced by the counties.

It produces mostly the Hass and Fuerte varieties. Hass takes 20 per cent, while Fuerte 80 per cent of the export market. Duke, Pueble and G6 are for the domestic market. With benchmarking activities by newly entrant counties into avocado producing regions at its peak, avocado is poised to be the next “gold”.

Fruits supply vital vitamins and minerals. A study conducted in Machakos County in Kenya shows that planting a carefully selected portfolio of easily grown fruit species will ensure you have fresh fruit throughout the year. 

“We found that existing fruit diversity can be arranged in ‘fruit tree portfolios’ to be planted on each farm for a year-round supply of fresh fruits,” says Ms Katja Kehlenbeck, of the Tree Diversity, Domestication, and Delivery Science Domain at the Nairobi-based World Agroforestry Centre.

 A combination of 13 species — 

  1. pawpaw
  2. mango,
  3. loquat, 
  4. mulberry, 
  5. water berry, 
  6. custard apple, 
  7. guava, 
  8. white sapote, 
  9. lemon, 
  10. orange, 
  11. chocolate berry, 
  12. passion fruits, and
  13.  desert date — will provide fresh fruits throughout the year. 

For small farms, growing pawpaws, oranges, lemons, and the wild fruit desert date could provide a year-round supply of vitamin C. 

A farmer with oranges and tangerines, for instance, has ripe fruits from May to August. Mangoes are available between December and March with pawpaws being on-season throughout the year. 

Chocolate berry (black plum), also known as Kimuu, in Kamba ripens between April-June, which is considered the dry season in the area. 

“Based on these results, indigenous wild fruit species need to be promoted for cultivation, and good planting materials – seeds and seedlings – made available to farmers,” says Ms Kehlenbeck. 

Researchers plan to apply the study findings to other areas to help improve nutrition and combat hidden hunger. The European Union and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) funded the study.

Below is a general guide on bananas, their classification, growth, and management all through to maturity and harvesting.

Classification Bananas are from the family Musaceae. The most commonly grown bananas are classified into two: (i) Musa acuminata and (ii) Musa balbisiana. There is also a crossbreed of the two known as Musa paradisiaca.

Growth requirements

Bananas require a good climate and soils for growth. They best thrive in areas with an altitude of less than 1800m above sea level. However, some other varieties can thrive in higher altitudes. An annual rainfall of between 1,000mm and 2,500mm, with an average of 1,400mm, which is evenly distributed, is ideal. Temperatures of between 20 and 30 degrees Celsius are ideal. Extreme cold weather slows down the rate of growth, hinders inflorescence (development of flowers) and if flowers don’t develop, the fruits may not ripen.

Soil Requirements

Bananas can grow in a wide range of soils. However, well-drained, fertile soils rich in organic matter with a pH of between 5.5 and 6.5 are ideal for optimal growth.

Land preparation

 The land should be tilled by ploughing and har rowing to get a fine tilth. Planting holes can then be prepared. Prepare the holes at a spacing of 2.5m by 3.0m for the short varieties (Dwarf varieties such as Dwarf Cavendish) 3.0m by 4.0m for the medium varieties such as Williams and Valery and 4.0m by 4.0m or 5.0 m by 5.0m for the tall varieties such as Poyo and Lacatan. Banana holes should be 90cm by 60cm by 60cm, or they could be 90cm by 75cm by 75cm, if the area has less water.

Planting Bananas are propagated using suckers.

There are four types of suckers, namely: the peepers, sword, maiden and water suckers. The sword sucker emerges from the lower part of the stem, has a well-developed base and narrow sword shaped leaves. The sword suckers are preferred for planting. They form bunches 18 months after planting. The maiden suckers, which are also well developed at the base, form bunches at least one year after planting. The peepers are easy to transport, but they take long to form bunches. Water suckers are not good for planting as they take time to establish. Propagation materials should be chosen from a healthy plant that is disease-free to avoid spread and contamination. Tissue cultured bananas, (which have been developed under strict growth conditions) can also be used for planting. Mix well-decomposed manure and top soil before planting. After planting, the suckers should be mulched.

Maintenance (husbandry)

 It is important to maintain your banana crop for 4 to 6 weeks after planting, manual weed ing should be done to reduce competition and possibility of disease-habouring by alternate hosts. Surplus shoots or suckers need to be cut to ensure good growth and development. Do not leave many suckers per stool. Reduce the number of suckers per stool, and leave between three and five banana shoots per stool. For the fi ve plants per stool, leave the main stem, which could bear the bunch, the water, maiden, and sword suckers and the peepers. For the three plants per stool, leave the main stem, the water and sword suckers. This allows bananas to reproduce at different stages. Fewer plants per stool also allow formation of big bunches compared to congested plants per stool.

Pruning

The bananas should be pruned to allow enough light penetration into the stool and good crop development. Pruning reduces accumulation of pests and diseases. When bananas start forming bunches, they may undergo a lot of pressure due to the weight of the bunch. They should, therefore, be supported, especially the tall varieties.  

Harvesting

 Begin by first cutting off the bunch, then the pseudo stem. For tall varieties, cut the pseudo stem to a considerable height, before supporting the bunch, and cutting it. Later, completely cut to ground level and remove the pseudo stem, to avoid spreading diseases.

Pests and diseases

 Common pests for bananas are beetles, the banana rhizome weevil, and ants. However, with good agronomic practices, they will hardly attack your bananas. Practice good farm hygiene such as frequent weed control and pruning to keep pests away. Mulching to conserve moisture. Xanthomonas wilt is a key banana disease characterised by yellowing and wilting of leaves, premature and uneven fruits ripening, yellowish blotches and dark brown scars in the pulp, and yellow ooze from cut pseudostems. Banana bacterial wilt causes rotting from inside. It has no chemical cure, but can be managed by good farm hygiene. Always cut down infected suckers at ground level. By embracing the above agronomic practices, farmers will enjoy the nutritional and economic benefits from bananas.