Gisborne going bananas over new taxpayer-funded horticulture venture - 'Grow like topsy'

Sean Hogan
Source: 1News

Poke around Gisborne backyards and you’ll see bunch after bunch of bananas growing like weeds.

Local enthusiast Trevor Mills says if you go out to Wainui Beach, "every second house has a banana plant growing in their backyard".

"With the climate change we've had in the last few years, middle of July, 2am in the morning and it's 16 degrees, well, bananas love that sort of treatment," Mr Mills said.

Gisborne locals have been growing bananas for decades, but now local company Tai Pukenga wants to see the business grow beyond the region.

Bananas are already grown successfully in Northland but they don't make it out of the region due to their popularity on the local market.

The plan in Gisborne would be to grow enough to be commercially viable and sell them nationwide.

Nearly $100,000 of taxpayers' funding has been granted by the Ministry of Business, Employment and Innovation to Tai Pukenga and AgResearch to make it happen.

AgResearch scientist Dr Jane Mullaney says they’ll need to grow a lot more trees for it to be a success.

Dr Mullaney and her team have been touring the region, picking the brains of locals and collecting samples for testing.

"From there, [you] make a tissue culture that is basically amplifying these plants and give them the opportunity to grow much more and a lot faster."

Mr Mills says the plants, once in the ground, "grow like topsy".

"If you plant 50 plants, you will get 150 to 200 plants from that initial 50," he said.

Statistics NZ data shows New Zealand imports more than 87 million kilos of bananas annually, with the average Kiwi household spending $88 dollars on the fruit per year - over $20 more than its closest competitor, apples, at $61 a year.

Dr Mullaney says with modern day standards and greater awareness of where food comes from, there should be a market for bananas from Gisborne.

"It's not enough to go to a supermarket and say 'there is an apple, there is a banana', so I think we are learning to tell that story about where that food has come from and it is just as important as the food that we are eating," Dr Mullaney said.

If Tai Pukenga's plan comes to fruition, bananas from Gisborne could hit supermarket shelves in two years' time.