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‘My secret to growing bananas that are taller than me’

By Phares Mutembei

Every year, John Magaju’s Fhia 19 bananas are the centre of attention at the Kaguru Farmers Day, the second biggest agricultural show in Meru County after the Agricultural Society of Kenya Trade fair.

Standing at 5ft2, apparently, he harvests bunches taller than him - 5ft5.

Some bananas on his farm at Kariene Ka Moi at Equator, Imenti Central, dwarf him, thus drawing a lot of attention whenever he attends agricultural exhibitions like, the Kaguru Farmers’ Day show.

“People always marvel at the height of my banana brunches. I have 100 banana trees and with one bunch weighing up to 130kg which I sell at Sh15 a kilo, I have been able to educate my children up to university level and sustain the family,” says Magaju.

So where did he get the ‘magic’ seeds from?

He got seedlings from the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology at the Main Campus in Juja. Other than having quality seeds, he says he spares no efforts in ‘feeding’ his plants well.

Good care

Most banana trees in his farm are supported by strong poles as the bunches are quite heavy.

Mr Magaju who have been at it for years, owns a 2-acre farm at Kariene ka Moi named after retired President Daniel Moi. Here, farmers from the region visit for tips on tissue culture bananas.

“When they come, I take them through simple techniques I deploy on my banana farm. With quality seeds, I discovered that with only water and manure, one can harvest healthy bananas season after season,” says Magaju.

Why FHIA 19  

Magaju says he decided to grow the FHIA 19 variety because they are ‘meaty’ and sweet when ripe. It is also not prone to disease attacks.

“It is even better when cooked because it is soft and rich in starch and minerals. It is great for making chips or crisps. It is equally nice when ripe or dried. Because of these sweet qualities, it is marketable,” Magaju says.

Though Imenti is endowed with well drained loamy soils and good amounts of rainfall suitable for bananas to thrive, Magaju says dry spells had in the past compromised his yields, so he and fellow banana farmers formed a group and started an irrigation project.

Bananas love water

“We invested a good amount of money in laying a pipeline from the Mariara river to our farms. Bananas need a lot of water to thrive. After flowering they consume even more amounts of water,” he says.

To ensure the bananas have uninterrupted water, the farmers take turns to patrol the areas around the pipeline to ensure there are no disconnections or diversion of the water.

“I have also invested in a 10,000 litre tank and sprinklers.”

For farmers interested in growing bananas, he has plenty of take homes.

“First, I dig large holes because I expect a heavy banana fruit. The holes are 3 feet by four feet. I fill three quarters of the hole with manure and mix it with top soil and humus. Then I plant the bananaright in the centre of the hole,” he explains.

Magaju says the humus enables the soil to be more fertile and ‘soft’ making it easier for the water and nutrients to sip into the roots.

Dealing with brokers

He says the avocado trees he has planted around his banana act as wind breakers as bananas love ‘shelter’.

In his farm you will notice that the banana plants are widely spaced (up to five metres) to avoid competition for the nutrients.

“The banana feeds through the roots so you have to make sure there are no other big plants around them,” he says, adding that he ensures the entire area has good supply of compost to enrich the soils and plants.

Though brokers are dreaded by most growers as they buy harvests from farmers at low prices, Magaju has learnt how to deal with them.

“I sell to brokers as soon as I harvest. If I don’t do that, my bananas would go to waste, so I sell to them at sh15 a kilo and they also make a little money for themselves,” Magaju says.

His journey

Given how well he is doing, Magaju who resigned from his government job years back where he was earning Sh1,800 salary, says this is the best decision he has made.

Now he says a bunch is able to hold up to 360 pieces of bananas and with one ripe piece retailing at Sh10, he has no complaints.

“I really cannot complain. I have created jobs for young people who tend to the bananas, macadamia and avocado trees. The workers are tasked with preparing quality suckers from the parent plant and tending to the young plants. After paying their wages, I still retain a healthy profit,” Magaju says.

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