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October 10, 2010

Small-scale banana farmers in Zimbabwe capacitated to increase yields, incomes

by Elton Mudyazvivi,

For producers in Zimbabwe there is no better time to invest in banana than now. With a formal market deficit estimated at 50% (that is about 20 000 metric tonnes) partly attributed to a decline in commercial sector production, there is a clear opportunity for smallholders to make money.

Some four thousand households in Honde and Rusitu Valleys of Manicaland province in Zimbabwe depend on bananas for more than a third of their income.

However, despite clear demand in formal markets located mainly in urban areas, smallholder farmers have in the past failed to supply consistent quantities of high quality bananas to the market. Production had been declining since the late 90’s, as the public extension system weakened amid dwindling budget support from government.

A closer look showed that smallholder productivity lagged far behind commercial sector levels. For instance, average productivity was only 16 tonnes per hectare whilst commercial output was above 40 tonnes per hectare.

In the past year, SNV’s banana value chain development programme organized a consortium of extension organisations to deliver banana production skills to producers, using mainly the demonstration approach. These included local and national farmers associations, the Government extension arm (Agricultural Technical and Extension Services), local service providers and private companies. The consortium seconded extension staff who trained farmers at demonstration sites under the guidance of an expert consultant, himself a former banana commercial farmer.

Results at demonstration sites as well as early adopters are testimony to the potential that smallholders have. For instance, banana bunch sizes rose to 25 kgs from an average of 15kgs. As a result, more and more farmers are rehabilitating their old plantations, while others are planting new ones. However, access to inputs such as banana blend and clean planting material, has been a limiting factor.

The demonstration plots and newly established plantations are providing planting material in the meantime. There are some investments by a private company to support contracted farmers but there is still a long way to go.

“The new knowledge on improved banana production practice has set us on the path to prosperity,” Mr Musoro, chairperson of a banana association in Honde Valley. With increases in productivity and quality, a household can get an average annual income of US$ 1000.

There has been increased interest from banana buyers, both big companies and small traders. Buyers are strengthening supply ties through, for example, allocating packaging material, transport and technical management personnel for the smallholders.

Recently, SNV started an agro-inputs restocking programme to make agricultural inputs widely available at economic prices in all corners of the country. The programme works with input wholesalers who supply consignment stock to a network of local agro-dealers. This development is expected to meet rising demand for agro-inputs in banana growing areas. The programme also has a credit fund for contracting companies.

The success of the demonstration approach in revitalizing banana production can be replicated into other crops and areas. With capacity utilization in many industries low, concerted approaches are required by value chain actors and support organisations to address production challenges that bedeviled most small-scale producers in the past decade.

SNV Zimbabwe

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