Malawi: Bananas help farmers solve food shortages, boost income

| August 17, 2015

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Nyamulani Kachimbalu’s family of six relies on maize as a staple food. But this year’s rains were poor and he harvested only one ox cart of maize.

Mr. Kachimbalu is not overly worried, though—he also grows bananas. He says, “My maize harvest is not enough to feed my family until the next harvest—but we have hope because we can eat bananas once the maize is finished.”

Mr. Kachimbalu lives in Chingila, a village about 25 kilometres east of Malawi’s capital city, Lilongwe. Bananas have been a lifeline several times in recent years when his family’s stored food ran out.

He started growing bananas in 2006 after learning from nearby farmers that fresh green bananas can either be eaten raw, or cooked as part of the family meal. This is very handy when the household doesn’t have enough maize.

Mr. Kachimbalu grows bananas on part of his one-hectare maize field. He says they are easy to grow because they don’t need fertilizer or other expensive inputs. He adds: “Since 2006, I … have [had] five banana stands in my field. Each consists of 50 to 70 trees. I like growing bananas because it is not labour-intensive—I think it can even be useful to farmers that are living with HIV.”

There is a high demand for bananas in the local markets, so banana farmers can make a good living. They can also sell to vendors who come from the city. Last year, Mr. Kachimbalu had enough food, so he sold some of his bananas. He says: “I made a profit of about US$120 after selling bananas at US$2 per bunch.”

Samuel Siliya farms in the nearby village of Ngomazondo. Mr. Siliya noticed that farmers who grew bananas made extra income to pay for household items such as groceries. So, in 2002, he started growing bananas to supplement his income from maize and groundnuts.

But farmers face challenges getting a good banana harvest. Mr. Siliya says: “Our extension worker says some banana diseases, such as bunchy top, currently have no remedy. She just tells us to uproot the affected trees and to never plant new banana suckers on an area that was previously attacked by the disease.”

Termites are also a problem. Farmer Makwani Dauteni has lost a lot of banana plants to the insects. He explains, “My field has a problem of termites which affect germination and survival of banana shoots as well as old plants. Previously, I had four stands of bananas, but now I have only two.”

Mr. Kachimbalu says bananas have two main pests—thieves and goats. He says: “I expect thieves to steal a lot of my bananas because many people have inadequate food this year. I plan to fence in my bananas this year to protect them from thieves, and from the goats that munch on the plants’ leaves.”

Many local farmers plan to grow more bananas. Mr. Kachimbalu wants to plant more than 15 stands. He benefits from eating the bananas at home, and he can sell them to buy household essentials. He says, “Whenever I have no money, I just go to my field to cut a bunch of bananas. I keep it for a few days to ripen and then sell it at the market, because people in this area like eating bananas.”

Photo: Nyamulani Kachimbalu standing in his banana field holding a bunch of bananas. Credit: Mark Ndipita