Bank on bananas for a better future

Keke Ruben Ntozini received 1.3 hectares of land from the Buffalo City Metropolitan City. He then rallied the support of members of his community and family, including his grandson Sihle, to make the most of the opportunity. Together, they converted their piece of land into a farming enterprise that produces mixed vegetables and bananas very successfully.

The story of what this community has achieved is not only inspirational, it also reminds us of the most important lesson we’ve learnt from every niche farmer with whom we’ve crossed paths in this season of Niche Farmers…: Anyone with a piece of unused space in which to plant something can become a farmer. So, if you’ve always had green fingers, why not start profiting from it now?

We’ve featured quite a number of farmers that make a decent living out of mixed vegetables, so we thought this may be an opportune moment to stop and look at bananas and the potential for banana farming in South Africa. Well, we’ll have you know that the market looks great, as us Africans consume a lot of bananas.

In fact, studies show that on average, we consume 21 kilos of banana and plantain per capita, every year. Plantains are members of the banana family that have a little less starch and sugar. For this reason, plantains are often referred to as “cooking bananas”, while the sweeter bananas that most of us are familiar with here in our sunny Mzansi, are called “dessert bananas”.

Nevertheless, regardless of whether they are cooking bananas or dessert bananas, we clearly love to eat them. On the South African market, for example, bananas generate more sales than any other fruit, plus we consume almost all of the bananas that we produce locally (which amounted to 402 025 tonnes in 2020).

This also means that we haven’t even touched the potential for exports yet, which is massive, as bananas are among the most produced, traded and consumed fruit on the entire planet. You see, it’s actually not just an African thing – the whole world seems to be bananas over bananas.

Best of all, as it has a sealed skin, the banana makes for a healthy, safe food stuff that does not need to be packaged or wrapped beforehand. So, clearly the question is no longer whether you should grow bananas, but rather if and how you can grow bananas. 

On this point, it is important to note that bananas originate from the Malay Archipelago in Southeast Asia, where the climate is largely tropical, and that even though they are grown in many other countries today, they still really only flourish in tropical regions.

To successfully produce bananas in South Africa, you will therefore have to make sure that your region has a warm, humid climate with a large spread of rainfall throughout the year. Once you’ve established that you have the right climate, simply do your research and start small, so you can figure out the fundamentals before you start investing big or taking big risks.

We found this comprehensive how-to-grow-bananas guide by the Agricultural Research Council, that even covers how you can make a business out of it. Take a look: https://www.arc.agric.za/arc-itsc/Leaflets%20Library/Cultivating%20Banana%20-%20English.pdf

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