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Kenyans urged to explore alternative food crops

NAIROBI, May 8 – As the looming food crisis continues to bite, Kenyans are now being urged to diversify their food base by producing crops other than the staple foods.

Africa Harvest Biotechnology Foundation Chairman Dr Kanayo Nwanze Thursday proposed the adoption of tissue culture banana, which he said has the potential to double the crop’s annual production from the current one million tonnes to help enhance food security.

Tissue Culture (TC) is based on the ability of many plant species to regenerate a whole plant from a single shoot tip.

Noting that Kenya imports a lot of bananas from neighbouring Uganda, the chairman said that self reliance and increased production would not only improve the economic well being and livelihoods of farmers, which would in turn contribute to avert food shortages and alleviate poverty.

Kenya’s output is meagre compared to say Uganda, which produces 40 million tonnes every year.

This however stems from the fact that the country has not taken advantage of its good climate or the fact that minimum pesticides are not needed to spray the crop.

Also, the crop has been neglected for a long time despite the potential it has.

“It (banana) has not been considered as a major food crop because emphasis has been placed on maize and other cash crops such as tea and coffee,” he observed.

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Bananas do well in tropical climates like the one in Kenya.

“We have continued to grow the crop that was brought during the colonial times for export,” Africa Harvest CEO Dr Florence Wambugu explained further.

Only three countries namely Cameroon, Cote d’ivoire and South Africa export bananas.

Wambugu said the market for bananas is huge especially in China and called on all farmers to take advantage of the situation.

She called on the government to develop a comprehensive banana policy that would ensure an effective and integrated approach to the crop that has multi-faceted benefits.

The policy, he added, could focus on the development of the technology, strengthen small holder banana production and improve the accessibility and efficiency of the markets.

“When a simple technology such as this works again and again, it is important for governments and development partners to take notice,” he emphasised.

The two officials spoke during the launch of a report on the socio-economic impact of tissue culture technology where they asked all stakeholders to come together and provide access to planting inputs and finances to enable more farmers embrace TC technology.

According to the report dubbed ‘A decade of dedication: How tissue culture banana has improved rural livelihoods in Kenya’, the introduction of TC technology has helped Kenyan farmers to recover from the setback experienced in the country in the mid-1990s.

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The area under banana cultivation, which had declined to around 46,000 hectares (ha) at the end of 1996, had risen to about 82,000 ha by the end of 2006 representing five percent of the total area under the crop production.

The officials estimate that the increase in banana ‘orchards’ is equivalent to an additional net income of Sh5.5 billion accruing to the growers, and which can earn the country close to Sh6.5 billion in revenues.

The revival of the banana economy also has the multiplier effect of providing employment for hundreds of Kenyans as well as aiding in the stabilisation of retail prices.

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