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PLANTAIN FARMING BUSINESS: THE NEXT BIG THING



Plantain is a sought-after starchy food/fruit crop that has a wide adaptability to variety of environments and ecosystems with a long history of cultivation. Many production system and agronomic practice have successfully been used for plantain production by farmers with good yield recorded. Plantain farming is a profitable agribusiness that is able to yield 57% net profit margin annually with Good Agricultural Practice (GAP). A plantain established on one (1) hectare will give a population of 1666 using 3m x 2m spacing. Increasing value of plantain for home and industrial uses has been causing a huge demand at local and international markets. Plantain farming will no doubt be the next big thing as few agropreneurs have started investing in plantain plantation. A plantain farm may be regarded as a plantation when it is five (5) hectares and/or above. Plantain plantation annual Net Profit/Sales for five years are 28.51%, 50.83%, 52.88%, 57.30% & 59.71% respectively. It also include the sale of suckers. This shows that plantain farming is highly lucrative. Expanding export markets and industrial usage of plantain for value added products (such as Plantain Flour, Plantain Chips, etc.) are major drive for establishment of plantain plantation by investors.
A bunch of plantain costs about N500 – N600. Plantains can be sold per bunch, in dozens or tonnes. Good quality plantains do command higher price in market and are adjudged by the following criteria; Size and Weight (Bunches with well filled fingers and sufficiently round fruits); Fresh fruits without cracks; Fruits without mechanical damage; Colour of the pulp (well defined orange rose pulp) and Fruits without pest or fungal attacks.
To establish plantain farm/plantation that will give good yield the following important factors are to be considered;
Soil: Plantain requires a well drained fertile (loamy clay) soil that is not too sloppy and the land should be easily accessible. For a large virgin land, selective clearing should be done on the field with minimal mechanical operation to avoid damage to the topsoil. Using Pay loader for land clearing does less of damage to the top soil when compared to Bulldozer clearing.
Planting Materials: The target market, purpose and environment should be considered in selecting planting materials. The Giant cultivars (French horn) takes up to 15 months to produce, they are tall, produce bigger bunches and very sensitive to strong wind because of their size. These giant cultivars require staking especially during fruiting.  Medium cultivars (False horn) starts producing from 10th – 12th months, they are of medium size and height, produce big bunches and are less sensitive to strong wind, they may require staking at times while Short cultivars (Dwarf Horn) may starts producing from 12th month or more, they of short size and height and have little sensitivity to strong wind and less tolerant to unfavourable conditions, bunches are smaller and yield is very low. Short cultivars are not suitable for export market. There are conventional, macro-propagated and tissue-cultured planting materials whereby their viability, superiority and homogeneity increase respectively. When selecting suckers for planting, propagation or multiplication, it is important to select from mother plants that are healthy and that are at flowering or fruiting stage or have fruited.
Water Availability: Plantains require adequate water supply in form of rainfall (100mm - 166mm/month) or irrigation (50L/days/adult plant) to produce good yield. A sprinkler and drip irrigation has successfully been used for plantain cultivation in an area with rainfall deficit. Drip irrigation saves water and enables Fertigation.
Spacing and Arrangement: The spacing and arrangement used affect plant population density and yield of plantain. The type of cultivars, target market and land area can determine the spacing and arrangement. Example of spatial arrangement for plantains include, Square shape; Rectangular shape, Triangular shape and Double-Furrow. Double furrow is ideal and gives good yield. The recommended spacing for West Africa cultivation is 3m x 2m which gives a plant population of about 1666 per hectare, however, in Asia, Latin America and Caribbean a higher plantain density of about 2500 per hectare has been used with the following considerations in place;

No deficit or excess water supply; Staggering of planting every 1 or 2 months to ensure consistent production; Use of uniform, good quality and healthy plantlets in bags coming from greenhouses and/or vitroplants; No direct field plantings or re-plantings; Adoption of only monoculture planting; Only one production cycle (no more than one harvest per planting); No slope planting and Without suckers all the time (de-suckering).
Fertilizer Application: Plantains are heavy feeders. It is essential to apply a combination of manure or compost and complete chemical fertilizers (NPK + Urea) to plantain during planting thus giving a well balanced and cost effective nutrient profile. Manure only can be applied at planting and chemical fertilizers applied before flowering. Besides, foliar fertilizer or humus solution application is important for nutrient supply and Sigatoka management. The application of non-toxic liquid called Super gro onto plantain leaves boosts harvest, controls diseases/insects, and promotes quick and uniform growth.
Weeds, Diseases and Pests Control: Weeds infestation in plantain field reduces soil nutrients and yield and harbour pests and diseases. It is essential to control weeds using Paraquat based herbicides, care must be taken not to allow the herbicide to touch the plant during application. Mechanical weeder can also be used. Major diseases and pests of plantain are Fungus (Black Sigatoka), Nematode, Rhizome weevil and Stem borer. These diseases and pests can be prevented by avoiding injury on the plant, spraying Copper Fungicide and Insecticide, de-leafing, bagging and using healthy/disease resistant cultivars. A nematode can be controlled using Nematicide. De-suckering especially before fruiting and removing male bud after appearance of last finger is necessary to conserve nutrients and to obtain good yield.

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