Nyakundi sells up to 600,000 seedlings at peak times and has employed 20 people on permanent basis
By Rachel Kibui
The Suneka-Kisii bypass road is dotted with homes and farms with lush banana and tea plantations. At Nyaora corner in Nyanchua village, a house by the roadside can easily be mistaken for another home. However, this five-roomed building is home to a tissue banana laboratory worth about Sh30 million.
Cyrus Nyakundi, 34, is the brain behind this laboratory that supplies seedlings to farmers in its immediate neighbourhood and beyond. Under the business Name ‘Agro Tech ltd’, Nyakundi breeds various varieties such as Williams, Grand Nain and Ngombe.
Nyakundi waters his banana seedlings in a well -protected area, covered with a black farm net. The net keeps pests at bay, thus protecting the young banana plants.
Each seedling sells for Sh100. His peak selling season is during the long rains, between March and May, when he sells about 600,000 seedlings from his three nurseries, with two others being in Nyamira and Mosocho.
Nyakundi leads us to his laboratory; he opens the first door and lets us in. Here, one is met by hundreds of glass jars, cleaned and placed upside down to dry. The bottles are well sanitized to reduce risk of contamination.
Before entering the second door, he asks us to remove our shoes and wipe our feet on a dump, sanitized mat.
We then put on laboratory coats and sanitize our hands with ethanol.
“These are mandatory measures that each person must undertake to avoid contaminating anything within the laboratory especially the minute tissue culture banana seedlings that are in the process of formation,” Nyakundi explains.
The process here begins with sterilizing clones acquired from mother plants. After washing them with soap and later with bleaching agent (jik) and ethanol, they are taken to the septic room where they are no longer touched with bare hands. From this stage onwards, they are handled using sterilised equipment. At this stage, the clones are split into two, and each one put in a class jar, which contains necessary nutrients and hormones to enhance growth and multiplication. After every 4-5 weeks, the clones are bisected to produce multiple plants from the initial one.
“Local banana varieties can produce up to 80 seedlings while the hybrid ones can produce up to 800 of them,” explains Nyakundi
After nine months, seedlings are taken to a greenhouse for primary hardening where they are nurtured for three months. They are later transferred outside in the nurseries for secondary hardening where they stay for two months and are ready for re-planting in orchards.
A graduate of Bachelor of Agricultural Education and Extension, Nyakundi’s journey to tissue culture banana seedlings production started in early 2009, when he was a participant at a horticultural workshop.
Organised by Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya (FPEAK), the training aimed at equipping horticulturalists with skills on good practices in agriculture.
“At that time I was working for a Nairobi-based company which specialised in tissue culture banana seedlings production,” says Nyakundi, adding, “ Some agriculture officers from Kisii who were present asked if the company would supply seedlings in the area.”
However, his efforts to convince his bosses to expand market in Kisii were futile.
In October the same year, following pressure from the agricultural officers, and his passion to serve his homeland, Nyakundi left employment and established a nursery within the Agriculture Training Centre in Kisii. He had an agreement with his host, to operate from there and pay 10 percent of profits to them for three years.
I would buy seedlings from my former employer, harden them and sell to farmers,” he says, adding that his initial capital was about Sh800,000, which he had saved during employment.
In 2012, he moved to his current location, where he has leased three-quarters of an acre of land.
His major breakthrough came in 2014, when a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) programme started promoting tissue culture banana cultivation in the area.
Under the project, USAID would buy an extra seedling for each one that a farmer bought for himself.
“One of the major challenges in the banana sector is limited access to quality planting material and low yields occasioned by prevalence of pests and diseases and poor agronomic practices, among others,” says Stanley Mutuma, a horticulture specialist.
Tissue culture bananas, Mutuma adds, are less prone to diseases, mature uniformly and have higher productivity compared to the traditional ones.
Nyakundi is also a banana farmer and owns a 14-acre orchard from which, he makes over Sh3.5 million annually.
He has employed 11 people on full-time basis and hires more than 20 casual labourers during the peak season.
He hopes to create pure tissue culture banana varieties from native varieties such as Ngombe nusu, Kasukari and others in a bid to increase their productivity.