Publications: ISAAA Briefs

No. 22 - 2001

The Benefits of Biotechnology for Small-Scale Banana Producers in Kenya

Florence M. Wambugu
Director, ISAAA AfriCentre

Romano M. Kiome
 Director, KARI


Published by: The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA). Ithaca, New York 
Copyright: (2001) International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) 
Reproduction of this publication for educational or other noncommercial purposes is authorized without prior permission from the copyright holder, provided the source is properly acknowledged.
Reproduction for resale or other commercial purposes is prohibited without the prior written permission from the copyright holder.
Correct Citation: Wambugu, F. and Kiome, R. 2001. The Benefits of Biotechnology for Small-Scale Banana Farmers in Kenya. ISAAA Briefs No. 22. ISAAA: Ithaca, NY
ISBN: 1-892456-26-5
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Executive Summary

1. Introduction

1.1. Banana - a Valuable Resource

1.2. Banana Growing in Kenya

1.3. Biotechnology in Banana Production

1.4. Background to the Project

1.5. Partnerships

2. Objectives of the Banana Biotechnology Project

2.1. General objective

2.2. Specific objectives

3. Methods and Studies

3.1. Participatory rural appraisal

3.2. Field evaluation

3.3. Ex-ante impact study

3.4. Marketing and technology diffusion research

4. Results

4.1. Overview

4.2. Field evaluation

4.3. Ex-ante impact study

4.4. Marketing research

4.5. Technology diffusion studies

5. The Pilot Micro-Credit/Revolving Fund Model

5.1. Background

5.2. Benefits

6. Discussion

6.1. Benefits to farmers

6.2. Benefits to the wider community

6.3. Role of the private sector

6.4. Market development opportunities

6.5. Strategies to counter adoption constraints

6.6. Why the project succeeded

7. Future Plans - Phase II Studies


7.1. Establishing a sustainable system

7.2. Increasing choice of varieties

7.3. Extending the project

7.4. Expected benefits


List of Acronyms


Executive Summary


The project Biotechnology to Benefit Small-Scale Banana Producers in Kenya was developed in response to the rapid decline in banana production in Kenya over the last 20 years. This decline was due to widespread soil degradation and the infestation of the nation's banana orchards with pests and diseases, problems further aggravated by the common practice of propagating new banana plants using infected suckers. The situation was threatening food security, employment, and incomes in banana-producing areas.

Thus the broad goal of the project was to make clean planting materials of improved banana varieties available to small-scale farmers, with the ultimate objective of helping to alleviate poverty and hunger. Tissue culture technology was considered an appropriate option to provide sufficient quality and quantity of such materials.

The project was facilitated by ISAAA and hosted by KARI. Careful project preparation included the selection of appropriate partner institutions in both the private and public sectors. A sound strategy for technology transfer and application was devised, with feedback and monitoring at all stages of the project-from the laboratory, through farmers, to consumers. Extensive field trials were conducted on farms as well as research stations, and demonstration farmers were recruited to disseminate the technology by example. A multidisciplinary approach was taken towards all project activities, and research and development were seen as integrated rather than as separate activities.

Results from the field trials were very positive: tc plants showed significant improvements in yields and growth statistics compared to plants grown from conventional suckers. Important data concerning the suitability of particular cultivars in different parts of the country were also collected. In general, farmers were very enthusiastic about the potential of tissue culture technology for banana production. They were particularly motivated by the capacity of the crop to generate additional income, which helped to change their perception of banana from a mainly subsistence resource to a viable cash crop.

An independent ex-ante impact study predicted that tissue culture technology applied to banana production could result in a substantial increase in yields, especially on small-scale farms. This finding was in contrast to the widespread belief that smallholders cannot benefit from modern biotechnology applications.

The project also incorporated technology diffusion research, which identified several potential constraints to the adoption of tc banana by Kenyan farmers, including:

o Relatively high cost of the tc plantlets compared to conventional suckers

o The need for a wide choice of varieties

o Gender issues

o Higher requirement of tc banana for labour and inputs

o Limited availability of clean land

o Limited established marketing and distribution systems

Accordingly, a pilot micro-credit scheme was introduced in response to the affordability issue of the tissue culture plantlets. This enabled small-scale farmers to purchase sufficient planting material to realise the benefits of the technology. The scheme follows the Grameen Group Approach and has been highly effective. Formation of micro-credit groups has brought wider benefits to the communities involved, such as education on banana orchard management and cooperation in distributing and marketing the crop.

Due to its considerable success, the project will be continued into a second phase. This will seek to overcome adoption constraints and to establish a self-sustaining system of production, distribution, and utilisation of tissue culture banana plantlets, which will provide long-term benefits for farmers and further entrepreneurial opportunities for the private sector. More varieties will be offered and the project will be extended to new areas within Kenya and across the East Africa region.

Increasing banana production has the potential to improve the standard of living of many small-scale farmers, while making a staple food more affordable for the urban poor. The surplus created by tc banana farming is likely to lead to an increase in demand for other goods and services, exerting a positive effect on the whole economy and creating new business and employment opportunities. Furthermore, improved banana orchard management has important environmental benefits, particularly in regards to soil conservation. Knowledge gained during the project has also enhanced Kenya's national biotechnology capacity, paving the way for the more rapid dissemination of future biotechnology innovations. The unprecedented success of this project suggests its usefulness as a model for improving the performance of other commodities in different communities. Overall, the project irrefutably demonstrates that biotechnology is a powerful tool for battling poverty and hunger in the developing world.

List of Tables

Table 1 Average banana production statistics for the provinces of Kenya (1996-97)
Table 2 Principal pests and diseases affecting Kenya's banana orchards
Table 3 Global and African yields of staple food crops
Table 4 Summary of the main institutions involved and their responsibilities
Table 5 Tc banana study locations
Table 6 Comparison of tc plants versus conventional suckers
Table 7 Tc banana yields in different trial locations
Table 8 Tc banana distributors

List of Figures

Figure 1 The provinces of Kenya
Figure 2 Average retail prices of banana in major markets in Kenya, 1990-94
Figure 3 Conceptual model of a self-sustaining tc-based banana production and marketing system