African Organic Agriculture Training Manual: Banana Crop Management

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Banana (Musa species) is a very important crop in sub-Saharan Africa, especially Eastern Africa, where besides consumption as food, bananas have cultural and medicinal values. There are many types of bananas grown in Africa, but depending on how bananas are utilised, they can be broadly grouped as follows:

  • Dessert bananas – They include Cavendish, Red Bananas, Apple bananas and Gros Michel. These are consumed as ripe fruits (table bananas). Most cultivars are susceptible to nematodes, Sigatoka leaf spots and Fusarium wilt although they are generally tolerant to weevil attack. Cavendish cultivars are the most popular and valuable of the dessert bananas and are traded worldwide.
  • Cooking bananas – They include the East African highland bananas (EAHB) and many other types of plantains consumed as cooked or roasted bananas. The EAHB are said to be endemic to the East African region and grow comfortably at higher altitudes (above 1000 m). On the other hand, most plantains are lowland varieties and are very susceptible to weevil attack.
  • Beer bananas – These cultivars can perform well even in suboptimal conditions and are used mostly for production of banana juice which is directly consumed or used for making banana beer, wine or spirits.
  • Multipurpose bananas – They include a number of improved cultivars such as the FHIA hybrids. These have multiple uses from being used as dessert bananas to juice production. They are relatively tolerant to nematodes.

Bananas are a perennial tropical and subtropical crop, which grow in a wide range of environments. However, the banana production systems can be divided into three broad categories depending on the number of cultivars grown and the intensity of management.

  1. Backyard garden systems Here banana is grown in a highly integrated system especially in peri-urban areas where land is limited. Bananas are grown mainly for food in combination with other enterprises like zero grazed animals or vegetable gardens to supplement nutritional or peri-urban market needs. This is a low input system and normally no proper pest and disease management is done.
  2. Perennial agroforestry systems In this system, bananas are intercropped with mainly perennial crops like coffee, vanilla, cocoa or fruit trees. In this system, bananas serve as a middle storey shade crop, but also provide food for household needs. Any excess is sold to the market. Different cultivars are normally grown together depending on the location and the intended use of the bananas. The plants are not replaced until they die of senescence or pests and diseases. This is also a low input system and many pests and diseases are either partially controlled or not controlled at all, making banana production highly vulnerable. However, it is the most common production system in most banana producing areas in Africa.
  3. Commercial plantations These are normally ‘single cultivar’ monoculture systems, comprising mostly dessert banana cultivars which have good export potential. Management of these plantations characterised by careful selection of cultivars/varieties and intensive use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. In this system, well-defined crop cycles are also observed, usually lasting 2 to 5 years after which all plants are uprooted and replaced.

Learning targets for farmers:

  • Understand good management practices of bananas
  • Understand how to better manage banana pests and diseases
  • Acquire knowledge on improving productivity of banana plantations
  • Receive guidance on marketing and organic certification of banana production

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Brian Ssebunya
FiBL, Research Institute of Organic Agriculture, Switzerland