Experts in banana farming have said that those who want to venture into the sector need to be resilient and patient. And importantly, be cautious about the weather conditions.
During a recent Gather To Grow session on Twitter, panellists shared information on the basics of farming with bananas, and urging those who want to start to do their homework first.
Sales and technical manager at Du Roi Laboratory Tam Johnson said the industry is great for those who want to learn and start farming with bananas.
The banana industry in SA
“The commercialising planting of bananas in South Africa started around the 1920s. There are about 9 000 hectares of banana farming in the country.
“The industry has seen a substantial fluctuation in terms of profitability because of operational costs, pests, diseases, input costs and labour force over the past few years,” Johnson said.
According to Johnson, between 5 – 500 hectares of land could produce 20 – 60 tons per hectare per annum.
“All bananas produced are for the local market, although some are exported to neighbouring countries. The yellow colour in our bananas is not bright enough for the European market because of weather conditions,” he said.
Connie Fraser, a banana technical consultant ,said over the years there had been a few changes and challenges that have hampered the growth of the banana industry.
“This has simply been made difficult by neighbouring states floating the market with their produce. Also, pests and diseases that were not a challenge in South Africa before are now here and giving banana producers a real challenge,” Fraser said.
What to look out for
Brian Korff said weather conditions are critical where one starts their farming operations and with what type of banana.
“They are tropical plants and South Africa is a subtropical conditions country. So ideal climatic conditions to farm with bananas are hot and humid conditions where temperatures are between 22 – 31 degrees Celsius.
“Banana farming in South Africa doesn’t do well in cold, frost, wind regions, those types of weather situations are not ideal for farming with bananas,” he said.
Korff said warmer conditions produce smaller bunches, while in cooler conditions there will be a small bunch but larger in size.
Small vs large-scale farming
He said starting banana farming does not require a large portion of the land. “Five hectares might be a good start for a small-scale farmer, but one needs to take into consideration that operating any farming entity is costly, so the less the better.
“Approximately 100 hectares if one wants to go commercial. But only if the weather conditions are good and allow for such farming to continue. I would say rather have smaller plots and combine them. Costs go down and it becomes affordable to get someone to look after them,” he said.
Korff said handling the bananas is very important as that could determine how your market reacts to the product.
“Handling of bananas is very critical and the storage thereof. They need to be in a cool area, do not put them in the fridge because they are sensitive. Marks will determine your price, so make sure they are kept to a minimum,” he advised.
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