Plantain farming is one of the best agricultural businesses you can do, especially in Africa. The reason for this is not far fetched as there is high demand for plantain in Africa and all over the world, due to its high nutritional value.
Plantain farming business is easy to start and less capital intensive in the long run, because the plant is self propagating, which implies that once cultivated on a farmland, the plant continues to reproduce on the land. The business requires less capital and it is lucrative also.
Plantain is produced in many African countries, but due the high local demand, the produce is usually not enough for exportation.
This guide is intended to help you understand what is involved in plantain farming and how you can start making money from this business today.
Brief description of plantain crop
Plantain also known as Plàtanos is a herbaceous plant which looks very much like banana. It can only be differentiated from banana using height and taste. It is longer than banana but less sweeter when eaten raw. In some places, they are treated as vegetables and in some places as fruits. Plantain can be eaten raw, boiled, steamed, roasted, fried and mashed. It is also used in the preparation of chapo, amala, plantain smoothie, dodo and Sapa De plàtanos (Caribbean soup ). Plantain inflorescence and central stem are eaten in countries like South Africa.
Plantain has so many benefits which includes medical and health benefits. It is used as a recipe in a charm to predict love, a well regarded healer both in the ancient and present time. It is used herbally for curing wounds, sores, asthma, bronchitis, whopping cough, bee sting and so many others. Plantain contains 122 calories per 100g, good source source of starch and energy, 4.1g of dietary fiber per 100g which aids regular bowel movements thereby reducing constipation, 18.4g of vitamin C per 100g which helps the body immunity (although excessive cooking destroys it), vitamin A which aids visual cycle, a powerful antioxidant, improves skin complexionand mucus production, vitamin B (pyridoxine) and potassium which controls heart beat, blood pressure and used for treating neuritis, anaemia, etc.
Plantain is a drought torelant plant, a good plantain sucker can yield bunch of plantains twice a year since it propagates by itself. As one reaches maturity stage, another replaces it. Less expenses of planting again. You can also make money from any stage of plantain plantation.
How to start plantain farming
1. Selection of farm land: Since plantain are drought torelant plant, it can grow in any part of the country with good loamy soil containing enough organic matter. It is better to plant plantains during raining season, especially if you don’t have provision for irrigation. Transportation, market and topography should be put into consideration in selecting the land for cultivation.
2. Land preparation: The land should be cleared of its bushes, treated if it is infested by pests and diseases. Few trees should be left in the land to serve as wind break to reduce damages caused by heavy wind. If the soil’s fertility is reduced or lost, it can be replenished by adding fertilizers (NPK) or manures. A good and fertile soil is crucial for a successful plantation.
3. Planting: Plantains are herbaceous plants that are not planted using its seeds (the seeds are tiny and fragile) like most plants but are planted using their sucker (an underground rhizome from which plantain trees sprout). The sucker can be gotten from dying plantain or a matured plantain plant. They are referred to as baby plants used to grow plantain.
The sucker is carefully separated from a Plantain tree using cutlass or spade so as to avoid peeling the sucker corm. The sucker corm should be collected in enough quantity. For a successful and high yield of the plantation, the best variety of sucker that grows in the area should be selected. It is advisable to go for medium sized plantain sucker because it can withstand strong wind than giant sized sucker. The sucker should be strong and free from pests and diseases.
The best time to cultivate your plantain is immediately the rainy season starts properly. This will less the expense on water supply.
To plant the sucker, dig a hole so as to accommodate the sucker corm. There should be up to 3-4m spacing between each rows and 2-3m between each sucker for maximum access to sunlight and proper evaporation. Since they do not have leaves at the stage, it is preferable to keep them moist but not wet to avoid flooding the land.
Mulching, that is covering the surface of the soil with organic matter like leaves of dead plants is crucial after planting the sucker. It has many advantages like regulating the soil temperature, retaining soil water, improve soil fertility and reduces the growth of weed.
4. Weeding and fertilizer application: It is best to carry out weeding in your farm land after 6-8 weeks of planting. Once the plantain leaves starts forming canopy, the weeds will reduce since the leaves covers the soil preventing the weeds from having direct access to water and sunlight. Dead plants and leaves should be removed and used as mulch and can serve as organic manure which increases soil fertility. Also remove excess sucker from plant leaving only one or two with spear-shaped leaves. Weeding can be done using chemicals (herbicides) or manually.
Fertilizers can be applied once in a month depending on the fertility of soil to stimulate growth and if it is necessary.
5. Harvesting: This can be done at 8 -12 months depending on the variety and the stage you wish to harvest your produce. The rhizomes produce flowers that emerge to the top and clusters. The flower develops into bunch of plantains containing 3 -20 hands with each group containing 5 -10 fingers of plantains.
There are three stages at which plantain can be harvested, sold or consumed. At any of these stages, the farmer can make money from the plantation.
- Green stage: At this stage, it can only be eaten after cooking or roasted and served as side dish. It tastes more like potatoes at this stage. It’s interior is yellowish or slightly pink. Its starch are very concentrated at this point.
- Yellow stage: At this stage, the plantain is riped and some of the starch converted to sugar, hence, it can be eaten raw. The green plantain can be converted to yellow plantain by leaving the green plantain some days away from the plant or allowing it to ripe on the tree. To prevent it from over ripping or spoiling, refrigerate for 2-3 days to slow down riping.
- Black stage: At this stage, the plantain is sweeter and can be eaten raw. It is very sweet when prepared with beans. After this stage, it becomes spoilt when it stays for long. Once one or two plantain(s) out of the bunch changes to yellow, cut the bunch ffrom the stalk. Harvesting should be done carefully because scratch or pressure on the plantain can lead to rotten of the plantain in a short time.
After harvesting the bunches, the stem dies and new sucker sprout to replace it, at this, money flows without been disrupted. Dead stem can be cut down and leaves usesused as mulch materials.
Market availability for plantain
There is always a ready market for plantain. You can take it to the local markets, supply to restaurants, supermarkets, and commodities markets etc. The sprouted sucker can be sold to farmers who wish to start plantain plantation. It can be stored in well ventilated place, free from heat.
The major disease of plantains is black sigatoka caused by fungus and easily attacked by nematodes and stem borers. It’s symptoms can be seen on the leaves and soon or later dies off. But if proper management practices are adhered to, your plantain will incur no loss.
Agricultural businesses is a lucrative business which most people are yet to discover. Agricultural produce like plantain are not only consumed locally but worldwide. Hence, investing in it, you have no worries because of the ready market. Also, when produced in large quantity, can be exported and boost the nation’s economy.
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