Banana farmers in Taita Taveta have asked the county government to speed up the completion of the Taveta banana factory, whose construction was commissioned two years ago, to cushion them against exploitative middlemen.
The Sh116 million factory was launched in 2019 by the county government in partnership with the European Union (EU). But its construction has been on a slow pace since last year.
The project seeks to strengthen the crop value chain under the Instruments for Devolution Advice and Support (Ideas-Kenya) programme.
It is said to be 80 per cent complete and is expected to have the capacity to process eight tonnes of bananas per hour.
The farmers have raised concerns over exploitation by middlemen and now want the county government to speed up the completion of the factory so that they get market for their produce.
A farmer, Steve Melanyi, said the factory will help farmers get a stable market for their bananas.
He said the delay in completion has left them at the mercy of middlemen who buy their bananas at poor prices.
Mr Melanyi said they are frustrated by the delayed completion.
The brokers are buying a bunch of banana at Sh200, to later sell it at Sh600.
“It is a loss to us farmers. We hope that the factory will be completed soon to add value to our produce and avoid giveaway prices,” he said.
He also said there is need for the county government to engage farmers to prepare them for operation of the plant.
Another farmer, Dorcas Lezeni, said they are facing challenges finding market for their produce that sometimes rots in the farms for lack of buyers.
She said they are reeling from the effects of Covid-19 and life has never been the same again since the markets were disrupted last year following the outbreak of the pandemic.
“The setting up of a banana factory should not drag on for long. We have been incurring post-harvest losses especially from last year due to lack of post-harvest handling technologies,” she said.
The construction of the factory was started in 2019 with the aim of cushioning farmers from losses caused by lack of market for the produce.
The county government has already supplied over 30,000 tissue culture banana seedlings to over 3,000 farmers in Taveta and other growing areas in the county in anticipation for value addition at the factory.
County Executive for Agriculture Davis Mwangoma said that the factory will be operational by September this year.
He said the department has laid down strategies to prepare farmers to supply the factory with the produce.
“We are waiting for equipment which has already been tendered for,” he said.
The factory will also provide direct and indirect job opportunities to over 38,000 people.
The EU gave Sh100 million for the project while the county government has contributed Sh16 million.
Farmers will also receive capacity building training in order to produce high quality bananas. They will also be supplied with of high quality commercial banana variety suckers to enhance production.
Over 5000 farmers in Taveta Sub-County are expected to benefit from the factory.
The area is rich in banana production but lack of a good market has been a challenge to the farmers. Over 2,000 hectares are under the crop in the sub-county.
The Agriculture department has put in place measures to increase acreage under banana production to 4080 hectares and at the same time improve production of the crop from the current 125,000 to 246,000 tonnes annually.
The crop is a traditional and priority crop for food security in Taveta and is grown in every homestead. But there is no enough value addition to mitigate post-harvest losses.