With more effort, banana production can uplift Kagera

KAGERA: BANANA-coffee-based farming systems in Kagera Region have developed over the past millennium, and fertile farming systems ensured the food supply of the local population until the 1960s.

Since then, however, soil resources and vegetation have been degraded, jeopardising food security for small holder farmers. Former Minister for Land, Housing and Human Settlement Development, Prof Anna Tibaijuka has expressed her desire to increase cash and food crops production in a bid to meet local demand and supply to international markets.

She appealed for joint efforts to transform the agricultural sector, including revival of the traditional ‘Kibanja farming system’ in Kagera Region. Prof Tibaijuka, an economist and former UN Habitat Executive Director, explained that Kagera Region has conducive weather suitable for production of various crops that were on high demand, including avocado, maize, sunflower and sugarcane.

“We should exploit suitable markets in the neighbouring countries where such crops are in high demand. The region is endowed with fertile soil and untapped valleys suitable for irrigation schemes. Kagera Region is also suitable for banana production, with capacity to increase the annual production from 600,000 metric tonnes to over 1 million metric tonnes,” she said.

Kagera Region shares borders with four East African Community (EAC) nations, namely Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and Kenya cross Lake Victoria. She appealed to the youth to exploit available agricultural opportunities instead of blaming the government for unemployment, assuring them that the agricultural sector offers many employment opportunities.

For many decades, Kagera Region has been identified in the minds of most Tanzanians as a banana and land of coffee. It is also identified as one of the regions favoured by early contacts with European missionaries. The others are Kilimanjaro and Mbeya Regions. The agricultural sector has consistently been dominant in the regional economy.

However, several villages in Kagera region were recently attacked by the banana disease known as Xanthomonas Wilt (BXW), something that has made authorities to caution farmers to take necessary precaution, including uprooting the affected banana trees.

The outbreak of BXW and other crop diseases has caused panic among farmers. Banana Xanthomonas wilt (BXW), is a limiting factor for banana production in Kagera. Farmers classify land use into three main categories, namely Kibanja, Kikamba and Rweya.

The Kibanja is the archtype of the citizens’ prosperity, where farmers grow bananas inter-planted with coffee, maize, beans and root and tuber crops. Kibanja is a mix-cropped garden based on banana and coffee stands. Kagera farmers cultivate and grow various kinds of crops, trees, spices and local herbs in each Kibanja. Major crops grown in Kibanja, besides banana and coffee, are maize (Zea mays) and common bean (Phaselous vulgaris), an essential indigenous protein source for the diet.

The kibanja is also the place for cultivation of two coffee varieties, namely Coffee Arabica and Coffee Robusta which is claimed to be indigenous in African Equatorial forests and was the first coffee to be grown on a commercial basis in Kagera region.

At the end of the nineteenth century, Coffee Arabica was introduced by missionaries as a commercial crop, and both varieties were originally inter-planted with bananas and have been grown as monoculture. Both Robusta coffee and Arabica coffee thrive on a slightly acidic soil, fairly rich in humus and well drained.

Both varieties need nearly the same amount of rainfall, about 1765 mm (75 inches), if the conditions are to be ideal. Robusta grows best in hot humid climate up to an altitude of 3500 feet (1350 m), whereas Arabica thrives better in a cooler climate and is mainly grown from 1200 to 1500 m.

Some of the indigenous food crops and plant species in Kibanja apart from bananas (musa spp) include yams (ekilai-Dioscorea alata), cocoyam (ekikwara-Xanthosoma sagitifohum), cassava (ekigando-Manihot esculenta), pumpkin (omwongo-Cucurbita moschata), yellow yam (kashuli-D. cayenensis) and African eggplant (entongoSolanum macrocarpon).

Trees friendly to Kibanja farming system include cator (omujuna-Ricinus communis), red-hot poker (omulinziErythrina abyssinica), guava (omupera-psidium guavaja), markhamia (omushambya markhamia lutea), ficus (omujuju-ficus sp) and African oil palm (omumeshe-elaeis guineensis).

The banana farming system in Kagera is confronted with declining productivity contributed by shortage of external inputs such as mulch from grassland the source of organic materials for home gardens. In Tanzania, production of bananas hit a record of 3,407 metric tonnes in 2018/2019 season.

There was minimal growth in comparison to the preceding season, when 3,396 metric tonnes of bananas were produced. Banana is part of the staple diet in Tanzania and one of the ten main food crops in the country. In Tanzania, most of the bananas (over 70 per cent) are grown in Kagera, Kilimanjaro and Mbeya regions.

Other regions producing a significant of bananas are Morogoro, Kigoma, Mara, Arusha, Manyara, Ruvuma, Tanga and Coast.

The global export value of the banana trade was estimated to be 8.9 billion US dollars before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, with a retail value standing between 20 billion US dollars and 25 billion US dollars annually.

And at 8.9 billion US dollars, bananas grown for export are only a fraction of the 44.1 billion US dollars in annual banana and plantain production – in fact, bananas are the fourth-most valuable global crop after rice, wheat and milk.

Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)’s data shows that nearly nine-tenths of the world’s bananas are eaten in poor countries, where at least 400 million people rely on them for 15 to 27 per cent of their daily calories.

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