Successful banana farming begins with proper choice of the location for growing the crop, according to Constance Itungu, a crop technician at Kamenyamiggo National Agricultural Research Organisation (Naro) station in Lwengo District.
“Bananas grow better in well drained loamy and fertile soil,” she says. “The area should have well distributed rainfall throughout the year, and the plantation should not be on a steep hill or in an area where strong winds are likely to damage mature plants bearing heavy banana bunches. Otherwise anyone planning to set up a banana plantation where the soil is poor and the rain scarce should be prepared to use fertilisers and to carry out irrigation,” Itungu adds.
The next consideration according to Itungu should be availability of labour in the area as many activities in banana farming require vigorous physical work. She also says the farmer should have some funds to buy planting materials and other inputs. She further says the best planting materials can be obtained from Naro centres across the country or from tissue culture laboratories.
“The reason we recommend the use of planting materials from Naro or tissue culture laboratories is that we want the farmers to plant suckers or plantlets that are clean and free from diseases and weevils. They are well selected and bred to be high yielding and fast growing.”
Preparing the land
The next important step is for the farmer to prepare the field where they intend to plant the bananas.
The grass in the field should be removed after which the farmer should carry out field mapping which is the process of placing pegs where the holes are to be dug. “We recommend spacing of three metres by three metres and we also recommend that each hole should be 60 centimetres deep and 60 centimetres wide,” Itungu says. “Once the holes are dug, it is advisable for the farmer to fill them up with top soil mixed with farm yard manure or composite and to let them rest for several weeks before planting the banana suckers. The best time to plant is the beginning of the rain season,” she says.
During first year of planting the banana suckers, the farmer may use the space between plants to grow such crops as beans or groundnuts.
“As the banana trees grow taller and produce leaves the farmer must watch out for weeds which can best be controlled by mulching,” Itungu explains.
“Mulching with grass and dry banana leaves helps to cover the ground – not only preventing weed growth but also sustaining soil moisture. The dry grass and banana leaves eventually decompose and turn into manure. The roots of the banana trees are normally within the top 15 or so centimetres of the soil profile which is the reason manure for bananas need not be put too deep in the soil. The farmer is however warned not to place the mulch too close to the banana tree as this will encourage weevil attack. The area around the foot of the banana trees – at least 60 centimetres all around the foot of the banana tree should not be under the mulch.”
The farmer is strongly advised to strictly observe field sanitation to minimise pest attack.
One way to do this is to be careful with the sharp tools used on the farm. Sharp tools like knives and pangas can transmit diseases such as Banana Bacterial Wilt (BBW) from an infected plant to a healthy one.
Careful farmers carry containers of disinfectants such as JIK into which they dip knives after working on one plant and before using it on another.
Itungu also advises farmers to work closely with agricultural services extension workers to seek advice on what pesticides to apply and to ensure that they purchase them from only registered agro-dealers in order to avoid buying fake products.
Removing the banana corms and burning them helps to reduce multiplication of weevils. With training provided by extension workers, farmers can also apply the trap method of fighting weevils.
Maturity and harvesting
With good agronomic practices, she says, the farmer will begin harvesting between nine and 18 months, after planting. Every stool should produce an average of one banana bunch every year.
Some banana bunches may be so big that the stock will require extra support not to fall down due to excessive weight or by strong wind.
The farmer should provide extra support by propping up the banana stocks with strong wooden poles. A good banana farmer should get at least 25 tonnes of banana every year while an average Ugandan farmer gets 12 tonnes annually.
Weeding, pruning and fertilisers
Constance Itungu further says weeds emerging out of the mulch should be uprooted by hand and left to dry on top of the mulch. Farmers are advised to continually prune the crop by removing any yellowing and drying banana leaves. “As I have pointed out already, the dry leaves and fibres can be laid along the grass on the ground to become part of the mulch material. The rootstock will often produce far more suckers than are needed for profitable banana farming. So the farmer should prune some of the suckers. The best practice would be one banana fruit carrying tree, one half-grown banana tree, and one very small sucker. Some people refer to this as: one mother, a daughter, and a grandchild for each banana rootstock,” says Itungu. For farmers working on less endowed soil and would like to use synthetic fertilisers the agronomist says, it is important for them to first seek advice from the area agricultural services extension worker regarding what nutrients are missing from their soil. “Extension workers have soil testing kits and can advise farmers what fertilisers to buy. Otherwise it is good to continually apply organic manure such as animal droppings or coffee husks.”