High-density banana cultivation for boosting farmer’s profit
India is the largest producer and consumer of banana in the world. In Pathanamthitta district of Kerala, among the major crops, after rubber only banana shows a steady increase in area and production. According to latest statistics available, the crop is growing in an area of 4642 ha. It assumes first position in providing livelihood security to the poor and marginal farmers of the district .The steady demand for banana due to its varied uses and wide adaptability to different farming situations makes it small farmer’s favorite crop. The dwindling farm holdings also make this crop a practical alternative for other crops.
The Nendran variety occupy majority of the area under cultivation and is consumed as raw fruit, cooked as vegetable or fried to make chips. In the Pathanamthitta district, it occupies more than seventy percent of the area under banana cultivation. However, compared to varieties as Grand Nain that can produce bunches weighing more than 45 kg, it produce bunches with average weight of 7-10 kg only, pushing down productivity and profits. Since more than 70% of banana cultivation is done on leased lands by resource poor farmers, obtaining maximum income from unit area under cultivation assumes at most importance.
Many research institutes have developed different technologies for pushing up productivity of banana cultivation. High Density Planting of banana is one such technology developed by Kerala Agricultural University that helps the farmer to earn higher profits from his limited land resources. In 2007, CARD-Krishi Vigyan Kendra Pathanamthitta offered this trump card to farmers of the district. By organizing farmer participatory research trials, demonstrations, seminars, trainings and field visits in the subsequent years, the CARD Krishi Vigyan Kendra effectively perfected the technology for easy adoption by the farmers. According to Sri Rajan Nair Vavolil, Naranganam the technology helped him to obtain an yield of 27.74t/ha while his fellow farmers got only 8.2t/ha. From the small demonstration plots of 0.25 ha in 2007, the technology has spread rapidly and in 2012 occupy more than 150ha under cultivation involving more than 1500 farmers in the Pathanamthitta district alone.
By planting Nendran at the recommended spacing of 2m x 2m, 2500 Nendran plants can be planted in one hectare of land. In high density planting, banana rows are made at a distance of 3m and pits of 50 cm x 50cm x50cm size are taken at a spacing of 2m in each row. Then banana plants are planted in each pit at a spacing of 30-45 cm, perpendicular to the direction of rows. The modified plant spacing reduces pit numbers to 1666/ha but increases the total number of plants planted to 3332 in one hectare of land. Thus, the farmers were able to accommodate 33 % more plants in unit area and reduce labour cost for pitting by 44%. The double-planted pits were given only 25% more fertilizer than the single plants, thereby reducing fertilizer cost by 37.5%. During 2011-12 the technology gave a benefit to cost ratio of Rs 4.49: 1.
According to Sri Mohanan Pillai Varikolil who is the “Karshakothama” award-winning farmer of the district, double planting helps the plants to utilize water and fertilizer more efficiently through increased root density. “Double planting helps the plants to resist winds more effectively and cost for staking was considerably reduced,” he says. He was able to avoid stakes by tying both the plant together or by using only one stake for both the plants.
Uniformly growing tissue cultured Nendran plants are the best planting material for doing high-density banana cultivation. However, sucker plantations can also be raised successfully if due care is given to plant equal weighing suckers in the same pits. Planting banana suckers of different sizes in the same pits lead to uneven growth and reduction in yield.