Until the early 1980s, maize, cotton and sweet potato were important crops produced by farmers in Arba Minch Zuria and Mirab Abaya districts of the Gamo Gofa zone in SNNPR. During that period, the then Arba Minch state farm had 62 ha of land covered by dwarf Cavendish banana. Experts in the office of agriculture at the then Gamo Gofa Province made efforts to introduce banana to the Lante producers’ cooperative, but it failed as the cooperative administrators at that time did not perceive banana as an important cash crop.
In 1984, a few experts restarted a dialogue to transform the mainly cereal-based subsistence smallholder agriculture to a more market-oriented system by introducing irrigated banana. After repeated discussions with cooperative leaders and extension staff, banana was introduced on 4.2 ha of the cooperatives land. Planting materials came from the state farm. However, the cooperative leaders and members were not fully convinced of banana’s potential to improve their livelihoods; this was further fueled by the belief that banana impacts biological fertility if consumed. Continuous awareness creation about the benefits of banana changed the perception of cooperative members. Once the first introduction was made to Lante cooperative, scaling out to individual plots in Lante and Chano Mille Peasant Associations was carried out. Prisoners from Arba Minch helped transport and transplant suckers from the state farm to the farmer plots. The extension staff and administrators continuously monitored the pilot farmers.
The agro-ecology of Arba Minch was good for Cavendish banana; most of the suckers at the pilot farms bore bunches easily and gave good yields some 10 months after planting. The first harvest was transported and marketed in Addis Ababa. The farm gate price for a kilo of banana was 0.20 ETB. Seeing this, the farmers understood the economic benefit of engaging in irrigated banana production. About five years later, most farm lands that had easy access to irrigation in Arba Minch were covered by dwarf Cavendish.
The introduction of banana in Arba Minch has also contributed to the development of new irrigation schemes in the area. A number of traditional and modern irrigation schemes were established for banana cultivation.
Irrigated banana (Dwarf, Medium height and Giant Cavendish) now covers more than 11,000 ha of land in Arba Minch Zuria and Mirab Abaya districts. Farmers use rainfall and irrigation to produce banana throughout the year. It is estimated that banana from Arba Minch has more than 80% of the market share in Ethiopia and 40% of the market share in Addis Ababa. Consumers in Addis Ababa, Hawassa, Adama, Shashemene, Bahir Dar and other major towns prefer bananas from Arba Minch for its good taste. Arba Minch is also an important source of banana suckers for many other parts of the country.
Different governmental and non-governmental organizations from Tigray, Amhara and Oromia regions buy banana suckers to start banana plantations in their respective regions. About seven years ago, the IPMS project introduced dwarf Cavendish to Metema area in Northwestern Ethiopia by transporting the suckers from Arba Minch. Currently, several smallholder farmers in Metema have become banana producers.
Although the living standard of the local value chain actors (banana producers, brokers, traders, retailers) and service providers (cooperatives, transporters) has substantially improved in recent years, they still face many challenges. For instance, yield per unit area of land is declining due to improper agronomic techniques such as overstocking, lack of soil amendments, improper irrigation techniques and mono-cropping. Previous studies in the area indicate that declining soil fertility has caused yield loss of 30-60%. Pests (fruit flies) and diseases (Banana xanthomonas wilt and Fusarium oxysporum) are potential challenges for banana production although they are not yet severe. Recently, a new variant of the soil-borne banana fungus (F. oxisporumf. sp. cubense) that rots and kills the Cavendish cultivars has been reported in Mozambique and Jordan. If this disease enters the country, it has a devastating effect and could cause up to 100% losses.
The current marketing system tends to benefit traders more than producers. Most of existing banana cooperatives are not strong enough to compete with the traders and hence do not benefit their members as much as expected. Furthermore, existing traditional production, harvesting and post-harvest techniques do not attract the foreign market.
To transform the existing production and marketing system, a new move is required. The first is proper implementation of improved production technologies to double actual yield per unit area and improve the quality of the products. The second is capacitating proper functioning of fruit and vegetables marketing cooperatives by building up the skills of members and organizing awareness creation among producers on the importance of joining cooperatives and linking to markets and improved market information.
The LIVES project is collaborating with the regional bureau of agriculture and regional agricultural research institute to upgrade the banana value chain in Arba Minch through capacity development, demonstration of improved technologies, knowledge management and market linkages.
Contributed by Tesfaye Dubale, Kahsay Berhe, Birhanu Biazin and Yoseph Mekasha