|Romoving plantains from a large scale farm in Bonakanda by headload |
because of the absence of a motor road
Few farmers believe plantain production is more lucrative.
Itue Hansel Ekwa says professionalized plantain farmers could make more money from plantains than those who depend on other cash crops.
Speaking to journalists after showing off his investments in this sector since 2007, Itue Hansel who was recently appointed a national consultant for the plantain programme (PRFP) said the plantain sector is big business.
He said he took journalists on the trip is to show other farmers that they can make a living in plantain farming given the high demand for plantains and transformed products in Cameroon, neighbouring countries and the world.
Speaking last 11th January in his plantain farm in Bonakanda, some 3 km from the main road, the plantain farmer said he had considered plantain farming as a business since 2007 given the high consumption of the product all over the country.
“We want to go industrial, this farm is not for the local market but for transformation. At this level we will harvest, transform and even buy from other farmers,” Itue, the CEO of Ekwa Farms said.
The farmer revealed that his interest in plantain business dates back to training on the plantain sucker multiplication using efficient methods like the PIF, thanks to SOWEDA and IRAD. Since then he has developed the plantain seedling nursery, trained farmers who now produce suckers, developed a big plantain farm where he markets locally and has signed a convention with the Trade ministry officials who get the plantains from the farm and market cheaply to the population.
“It is thanks to my activities in the plantain sector that I have met with farmers in some African countries and got the chance to discuss and know how good this sector can be; this huge plantain farm that has close to 9500 stands is meant for transformation into chips, flour and other products”, Itue told journalists.
He says there can be no success in agriculture without research. To him, his organization works with researchers in IRAD to foster plantain growth.
“After discovering that organic material could replace chemical fertilizers, Ekwa Farms and the research centre have developed a demonstration farm in Ekona where both organic and inorganic fertilisers are tested”, he told journalists in the demonstration farm in Ekona.
Before moving to the farm in Bonakanda, the journalists were shown round the organization’s nursery with 9 propagators capable of producing 10000 plantlets in a few weeks.
Farmers, researchers investigate effectiveness of organic and inorganic fertilizers
Some farmers and researchers have sought to investigate whether farmers can replace costly inorganic fertilizers with organic fertilizers.
Inorganic fertilizers like urea and 20 10 10 commonly used by some plantain farmers have become very costly. Most plantain farmers, we learnt, do not care about inorganic fertilizers and at the same time neglect the potentials of organic fertilizers like poultry dung, coffee husk, cocoa pot residues that can be collected from their farms and used as a substitute for costly chemical fertilizers.
Above all, the organic substances used have properties that improve the soil while chemical fertilizers quickly use the available nutrients making the land unproductive in most cases when used several times.
Aware of the use of fertilizers in mass production, some farmers as well as researchers have sought to verify which of these fertilizers could be recommended.
Speaking to TFV in his research farm in Ekona, Itue Hansel said the idea of testing the effectiveness of organic and inorganic fertilizers in plantains is to know which one can be recommended to farmers. The Ekwa Farms CEO said they are testing poultry dung, cocoa pot residue and other organic substances to see which one will perform well compared to inorganic fertilizers. After this exercise, he said they will be able to recommend the one that does well without any fear.
Dr Okolle, a researcher in the farm, the results will be good for farmers given that they can get organic fertilizer cheaper though they will have to use much in case of mass production of plantains. According to the researcher, organic substances are better because they have additional value to the soil while the inorganic substances rather deplete the soil.
Yawa Monono, a student researcher attached to the close to one hectare research farm told TFV that in the six months of observation, the plantains that receive poultry waste is doing as well as those that received chemical fertilizers. Although he said it was only at the end of the research when the plantains must have produced bunches, the vegetative parts of plantains that are using poultry waste and some chemical fertilizers is indicative that they will produce healthy bunches.
Plantain mass production difficulties in the South West
Like most plantain farmers, Itue and his workers are faced with evacuation problems.
Though his plantation is just a few km from settlements in Buea, evacuation is done by head load. This is because of the lack of a farm to market road. Lots of rejected plantains in the farm can be sold in Buea for at least 1000 francs but are allowed to rot in the farm as waste because of transportation problems given that the farm is on the slopes of the Buea Mountain.
“It is difficult to evacuate everything, this explains why these ones are just abandoned; workers just evacuate what is excellent. We also lack water here so we cannot even talk of irrigation to get excellent bunches in the dry season”, the farmer told journalists in his farm.
Most plantain farmers who would have loved to implant factories to transform plantains have their own difficulties.
To Itue, he can’t get appropriate transformation machines because of cost and accessibility to them. He will like his chips and flour from plantains to be a model but transformation is done with local material while labeling is a problem.
He believes excellence in this sector can only be achieved with adequate assistance from the state and says he is quite hopeful because even during the agric show in Buea the Minister of agriculture showed interest in their transformed plantain products and took some of their chips and flour to Yaounde.