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How to maximize potentials of plantain

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PHOTO: AYODELE ADENIRAN

• Missing In Nations’ Export List
• Inadequate Knowledge Of Improved Cultural Practices Is A Challenge — Dademu
• Lack Of Proper Species, Support For Farmers Major Issues — Kobani

Plantain (Musa spp.) is a staple crop, a source of carbohydrate, rich in vitamin and minerals such as calcium and iron. Unripe plantain can be used as a booster for iron deficiency in the body.

It belongs to the banana family. Plantains are grown in well-drained soil that has a pH between 6.0 and 7.5, and in temperatures between 18 and 32 degrees Celsius. Plantains begin to mature 18 months after planting and when properly taken care, it can produce for as long as six to 20 years.

Plantain occupies a strategic position for rapid food production in Nigeria. It is ranked third among starchy staples. Its production, concentrated in the Southern part of the country, still remains largely in the hands of small-scale farmers who, over the years, have integrated it into various cropping systems.

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In some countries, including Nigeria, it is usually planted alongside other crops like cassava, cocoa and fruits because it provides shade to these crops.

Plantains are usually cooked, roasted, boiled and steamed, either when green or very ripe. They are also processed into flour; snacks, animal feed, and added into other food products that are already processed.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Nigeria ranks as one of the largest plantain producing countries in the world. But despite its prominence, the country does not feature among plantain exporting nations because it produces more for local consumption than for export.

Statistics from worldatlas ranks Nigeria fifth in the world, behind Cameroon, Ghana, Uganda and Colombia in plantain production. The country produces an estimate of 3.09 million tons of plantains by both small-scale farmers and large-scale farmers.

Reports have it that the daily demand for the produce is rising tremendously and could outweigh supply soon.

The growing number of plantain chips producers is believed to be responsible for the high demand experienced currently in the country, which also explains its potential for growth.

The Guardian learnt that aside boiling, plantain could be processed into pastry, pastry mixed with beans, fried plantains, plantain fritters and chips.

It was further learnt that jams, marmalades, juice, vinegar, beer and alcohol could be made from ripe plantain fruits. In some towns and villages around Ife, Osun State, a non-alcoholic drink called Sekete is made from plantain.

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Plantain can be processed into flour for healthy confectionaries. Plantain peels can be processed into animal feed, the trunks are used for ropes, table mats and handbags, wine, syrups, biscuits and others.

The Guardian investigations show that many challenges are hampering the prospects of the crop, which need to be addressed if the country aims to explore the export market to earn foreign exchange.

One of the challenges, according to a plantain farmer in Ogun State, Alamu Dademu is that cultivation is male dominated, while women essentially handle marketing. To him, this has not really helped the industry as only few farmers venture into its cultivation.

He added that inadequate knowledge of improved cultivation of the crop by farmers, inefficient system of extension services and lack of research are reasons why yield is still low in the country.

A fresh produce grower, Kenneth Kobani, whose farm is located in Barayira, Tai Local Government Area of Rivers State, said major issues with plantain farming are generally the same problems with farming in Nigeria. “For instance, lack of proper species of plantain suckers and lack of government support for the real farmers. Government/political farmers are springing up everywhere and they are the beneficiaries of practically all the government interventionist programmes.

“The real farmers who invest their hard earned resources do not really benefit from these interventions because the banks and financial institutions are not really interested in them.”

Another challenge as observed by The Guardian is the threat posed by the Banana Bunchy Top Disease (BBTD). The BBTD is the most serious disease of bananas and plantains, which occurs in Africa, Asia, Australia and South Pacific islands.

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The disease, first discovered in Nigeria, in Odologun community, in Yewa South council area of Ogun State in 2012 by the International Institute of Agriculture (IITA) in collaboration with University of Ibadan and Nigerian Agriculture Quarantine Service (NAQS), has reportedly spread to Ado-Odo/Ota, Yewa North, Imeko-Afon and Abeokuta North council areas. It has also been recorded in Ibarapa zone of Oyo State.

BBTD is caused by a virus named, Banana Bunchy Top Virus (BBTV). The virus spreads into new fields along with the infected planting materials (suckers, corms or tissue culture plants) and also through an insect vector, banana aphid (Pentalonia nigronervosa), which is widespread in all the banana and plantain-producing areas in Nigeria and many parts of the world.

Virus infection results in dwarfing, narrow leaf, chlorosis of leaf margins and discontinuous dark-green streaks on leaves, petioles and pseudostems. The leaves of infected plants become progressively smaller and stand more erect, giving the plant a bunchy appearance.

Plants infected early in their growth do not produce fruits, resulting in total loss of yield, while plants infected at later stages may produce normal or deformed fruits. The plant may eventually die, but often remains with its lateral shoots, which serve as a source of infection.

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To actualise the prospects of this crop, Dademu said the country needs to grow more and add value through industrialisation, adding that the country can export products made from plantain. “This will create jobs, reduce poverty and create wealth for the nation.

“Processing is the best way to preserve plantain into storable food products because its fruit life cycle does not last more than seven days. Processing will help enhance industrialisation and improve the value of the crop for availability. It is very important to key into these value chains, farming alone cannot develop and sustain the economy; it will be like a waste of time and energy.”

To Kobani, the prospects for income generation are enormous, despite insufficient plantain in the market to meet the high demand. “The increased health consciousness amongst Nigerians today means there is a phenomenal demand for plantain flour, Plantain fufu, unripe plantain derivatives like chips etc.

“So the market is there, all that is lacking is the provision of the right species of plantain suckers to the real farmers and the channeling of government interventionist programmes to them.”

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