Tissue Culture Bananas- Plant Cell Technology Growing in Kenya 

Tissue culture banana farming is gaining prominence in the local economy. The venture is attributed to vast advantages compared to the traditional varieties especially when done commercially. Consumer demands for the crop value chain are overwhelming in the market space due to its multiple uses.

Bananas can be ripped for consumption as snacks or be cooked and eaten as the main meal alongside accompaniments such as vegetables or legumes. It can be added value to make products which include flour, Juices, puree, chips, crisps, jams/jelly, sweets, vinegar, and wine that fetch more income in the markets.

What is tissue culture?

Tissue culture is the science of multiplying clean disease-free planting materials of different crops to have many identical copies of the same variety without changing the taste and any other physical attribute of the plant. 

Fragments of tissue from plants are transferred to an artificial environment in which they can continue to survive and function.1. In other words, tissue culture is the growth of tissues or cells separate from the mother plants. 

The cultured tissue may consist of a single cell, a population of cells, or a whole or part of an organ. This is typically facilitated via the use of a liquid, semi-solid, or solid growth medium, such as broth or agar, in vitro under sterile growing conditions,2.

Plant Cell Technology

How are bananas cultured?

Banana is typically propagated vegetatively; therefore, tissue culture as a propagation technique provides a potent means to prepare disease-free planting materials that can provide immunity in developing an integrated disease-management program for bananas.


On standard, disease-free plantlets with 3 – 4 leaves are generally supplied in pots for raising secondary nurseries. Plants are initially kept in the shade (50%) and as they harden, shade is reduced gradually. After 6 weeks, plants do not require any shade. Normally two months of the secondary nursery is enough before the plants are planted in the field pits. 

Tissue culture plantlets are planted in pits that are 3 feet wide and 3 feet deep. Well-drained soil is mixed with well-composed dry manure. Introductory planting fertilizer is added afterward, especially Diammonium Phosphate (DAP) and a dose of nematicide to keep nematodes away. The plantlets are then planted about 30 cm deep within the pit consisting of a stuffed mixture of fertilizers and soil.

Soil firming should be done after placing the plantlet so that the roots can get into close contact with the soil. Planting holes should be spaced 3 meters apart, which is an equivalent of approximately 450 plantlets per acre.

Available varieties in Kenyan markets.

Ripening varieties Cooking varieties Local varieties: Dual purpose (cooking and ripening):
  • Grand Nain
  • Mbogoya
  • Giant Cavendish
  • Ng’ombe 
  • Fhia
  • Uganda Green
  • Solio 
  • Fhia 
  • Kibutu
  • Kiganda
  • Mbuu
  • Muraru


Uniformity in size and age of the plants

Advantages of growing tissue-cultured bananas

  1. Disease-free elite varieties
  2. Rapid multiplication and high yields
  3. Early harvesting due to short gestation
  4. Uniformity in size and age of the plants
  5. High-quality fruit bunches
  6. Easy to harvest because of growth uniformity


Why is the Rate of adoption still low in Kenya?

Adoption of tissue-cultured bananas(TCB) in Kenya is still low, trailing at less than 7% compared to countries like Uganda and Burundi.3. Most farmers, especially those doing subsistence production are still endowed with traditional varieties that are characterized by lengthy gestation, slow maturity rates, difficulty in propagating disease-free suckers, lack uniformity for easy harvesting arrangements, and often require excessive flood irrigation in low-rainfed areas as observed in parts of Meru County by FSPN Africa.

Overhead irrigation. Photo Courtesy: by FSPN Africa. Mitunguu Ward, Meru County

The slow rate of adoption is attributed to a number of factors categorized into socioeconomic, Technological attributes, Institutional factors, and Environmental factors.

Socioeconomic factors

  •  Affordability: sourcing the plantlets especially in large quantities needs financial muscle which is strenuous for most farmers. The high maintenance cost, which may need the installation of an irrigation system and hiring technical labor, especially at the initial stages of production hinders the intensification of TCB farming.
  • Culture:  Most farmers in banana-endowed regions such as Meru and Kisii have low experience with TCBs and hence are less likely to adopt them. This is because most people are conversant with traditional varieties since back in time and are most likely to retain growing them as compared to growing new strains. Another hindrance attribute is doubt about the safety and nutritional value of the TCBs.
  • Willingness to invest in banana farming: A few people at the grassroots level foresee TCB technology as an alternative to boosting household income generation.
  • Gender issues and concerns in development and dissemination: Women and youth have limited access to land for implementing the cultivation of TCB than men and yet they are the drivers of upscaling this technology. Most men prefer other commercial crops rather than bananas. Women and youth may also have limited access to finances to buy the plantlets and other required inputs. Sometimes it is also considered as a snack or food for children and women hence less likely to be supported by men as an investment in some regions.4.

Technological Factors

  • TCB Technological needs: The technology is expensive as it takes much resources and time to propagate the plantlets, rendering low production of the materials. In most scenarios, the production stops at the end of the research and trial level in pilot areas due to limited funding for mass production.

Institutional factors 

  • Extension contacts: exposure of farmers to the tissue culture information that is expected to stimulate adoption is still low.
  • The approval process by the control and regulatory bodies is bureaucratic and takes longer time since it involves field and lab trials that need analysis, interpretation, and peer review of the data before dissemination of the plantlets for mass production.

Environmental factors

  • Geographical location: farmers in regions not endowed with banana farming reduce the adaptability of tissue culture bananas attributed to less knowledge of the banana value chain production requirements such as soil profile.
  • Climatic profile: few regions’ weather patterns and soil profile support banana farming. Nonetheless, the value chain faces competition from other staple and often-used crops in the farming spaces 

FSPN Africa’s Aspiration

We are looking forward to:

  • Collaborating with the institutions that produce the TCB plantlets to facilitate access to the TCB plantlets by smallholder farmers at affordable costs. The plantlets are touted as free from diseases and high productivity that will boost household food security, save on disease management costs, increase income generation streams and improve living standards.
  • Increasing extension training to smallholder farmers to speed up the adoption of such technology. The training will provide information on nutrition and health safety, how to grow and manage the plantlets, and end-to-end environmentally friendly farming skills that will increase the trapping of carbon into the soil compartments.
  • Working with market partners to create platforms that will provide timely and wider market access by smallholder banana producers and reduce food loss related to market delays.
  • Linking the smallholders to credit facilities which will give them the muscle to acquire the TCB inputs and manage the whole production chain. The financial resources will also help to intensify production.
  • Collaborating with women and youths producing banana value chain in co-creating value addition innovations and scaling them into bigger capacities that will in turn create more jobs for them.

Where to get the TCB plantlets?

Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO-Thika), Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, and Aberdare Technologies are among the main developers and suppliers of the TCB plantlets varieties.  


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *