How to Grow Plantain and Make Money Part 1 of 3

I have grown crops like cucumber, pepper and okra and I know how much pesticides they can consume. Growing them large scale can be very expensive. While thinking of a low cost alternative, plantains or banana comes to mind (cassava and cocoyam are also cheaper to grow). I have 10 plots of land (rented) but since the past 3 years, half of it remained empty because I could not afford using it for expensive crops. So I decided to fill the empty plots with plantain and pawpaw. I will be writing about the pawpaw farm in another post.

Spray tube irrigation in my plantain farm
Spray tube irrigation in my plantain farm

Soil Requirements:

Plantain require a deep, well-drained soils  that are rich in organic matter. The plants will grow optimally in soil with a pH between 5.5 and 7.0. They need water to yield well. So plant them during the rainy season. If rainy season do not last up to 6 months in your area, supplement with irrigation and/or mulching. They will grow for 7 months or more before harvesting.

The soil I have was hard, infertile and stony. I have to use pick axe to manually soften it. It was a very tough job! It is better done a little at a time. I first planted the suckers in small batches and ploughed the soil at my convenience. But I was fast enough so that roots will not be affected.

The pick axe I used in ploughing the hard, stony soil

Soil testing is recommended but I didn’t do it because of the cost (N10,000). I took the risk and it turned out good for me. Thank God!

Planting Materials:

Know where to get the planting materials before you start. Plantains and bananas can be propagated through suckers, macro propagation or tissue culture (we look into the details later). Most farmers make use of suckers, and that was what I used. I got most of them for free and bought others for N50 or N100 each.

Land Preparation:

Use this opportunity to destroy all weeds and shrubs. I used glyphosate herbicide for weeds and uprooted shrubs with pick axe. If your land it hard, plough it. Whenever weeds regrow even after planting, I use glyphosate to kill them. I do this very carefully. I don’t spray too close to the plantains and I am mindful of the wind which can cause herbicide drifts to reach the plantains. Use a sprayer nozzle that gives big droplet size as oppose to fine spray.

If you want to use bulldozer to clear the weeds and shrubs, make sure that the top soil is conserved, else you will spend heavily on fertilizer and organic manure. Hard soils should be ploughed and harrowed mechanically or manually. But soils that have been cultivated in the past need only to have the ridges leveled and planting holes dug.

Some websites recommend application of a basal dose of about 20 tons of manure per hactare during land preparation. Basal manure application means to spread manure over the whole land and mix it into the soil before planting. I did not do this because manure is costly and weeds may gulp up most of the manure. If you know that you can’t control weeds in an effectively and timely manner, don’t apply basal manure.

After clearing, ploughing and harrowing the land, map out the spots where the plantains will be. You can use a spacing of 3m x 3m or 2.5m x 2.5m. You can use ropes and pegs to help you do this. After mapping out the spots, dig holes of 30cm x 30cm and 30cm deep. The larger the hole the better. Generally, the holes should be wide and deep enough to contain the sucker’s corms and the quantity of manure that will be added

Add manure and some top soil into the holes and mix. I used 11 liters of pig manure per hole and I made sure that the holes are large enough to contain this volume of manure.

Uprooting Suckers:

Get suckers that are 3-5 months old. When uprooting suckers, try to get as much corms as possible. Use a spade to separate the mother from the sucker. Do so as close to the mother plant as possible to get as much corms as possible. After this, dig round the sucker and uproot it. But take care not to damage lots of roots. Fill up the hole left by the uprooted sucker

Image of mature plantain and suckers. From

Types of Suckers

There are different types of suckers that can be used to start a plantain farm. We have the sword suckers, water suckers and maiden suckers.

Sword sucker (left) and water sucker (right). Image from

suckers: They have narrow, sword-shape leaves. They are still attached to the mother plant and they get most of their nutrition from the mother plant.

Water Suckers: They have broad leaves, small corms and have no or little attachment to the mother plant. They usually grow from decaying underground corms.

Maiden Suckers: These are suckers that are still attached to the mother plant but they have not flowered yet.

Note: Only sword or maiden suckers should replace the mother plant after harvest. Water suckers should not be selected for this purpose since they grow less vigorously. However, water, sword and maiden suckers can be used to start a plantain farm.

—-pic of my water suckers—-

Sucker Treatment:

Suckers are normally infested with pests and diseases. Planting them without treatment can be disastrous. The last thing you want to do is introducing pests and diseases to your farm. More on pests and diseases later. Let’s talk about sucker treatment.

Note: You must do the following outside your farm!

I treated my suckers as follows. I cut off all leaves that shows signs of diseases. Any yellow, brown or other leaf discolorations is probably caused by diseases. Lower leaves are mostly affected. If the sucker stem is tall and thin, cut off all the leaves because if you don’t, wind will cause the stem to bend and eventually snap. All leaves may also be cut off to facilitate transportation.

I cut off all the roots to get rid of root nematodes. New roots will grow again, so don’t be afraid to do this. It is also recommended to peel the corn to get rid of more nematodes, weevil eggs and diseases. Peel it like you would peel yam. Peel out any discolored area until white tissue is exposed. A healthy corm is pure white. Again, don’t be afraid as this will not kill the sucker. Without peeling the corm, a lot of corm discoloration will remain hidden. Sometimes, I noticed some tunnels in the corm caused by corm weevils. I will follow these tunnels deep into the corm until I find the weevil and kill it. But if this would cause much damage to the corm I’ll leavpe it since chemical treatment that will follow will kill them. And sucker with too much pest and disease damage must be thrown away.

Some chemically treated plantain suckers. This kills pests and diseases

To be continued on Page 2.

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