By Prossy Nandudu
Traditionally, bananas were grown for food and not for commercial use.
Then, commercial crops were coffee, cotton, tobacco and tea in some parts of the country.
However, with the changing economic times, most crops, including bananas, have become commercial. Because of its commercial benefits, bananas are now widely grown.
The increase in production has also led to wastage on many occasions due to the lack of appropriate post-harvest handling technologies.
For example, during a bumper harvest, banana prices dropped to as low as sh2,000 per bunch in major banana markets, such as Ntungamo, Bushenyi and Isingiro.
While major food markets in Kampala, like Kalerwe, Kireka and Nakawa, bananas are left to ripen, rot and dumped, yet, according to the agriculture ministry, 1.4 million people in rural areas depend on bananas for food and income.
To reduce on the losses, banana-growing communities invented post-harvest management practices, such as extracting juice, wine and waragi.
Although there is progress in value addition at the community and industrial level, there is still a need for awareness about products one can get from bananas.
This is being executed through institutions, like the Presidential Initiative on Banana Industrial Development. This is what scientists focused on at the just concluded Harvest Money Expo, organised by Vision Group and supported by the Netherlands Embassy, Engsol and Riela, among others.
Make money from bananas
Asher Wilson Okurut, a research scientist at the National Agricultural Research Laboratories (NARL) Kawanda, advised farmers to utilise the whole banana plant.
He said one can earn from the pseudo stems, which can be processed into biodegradable textiles, fabrics, floor tiles, sanitary towels, animal feeds, briquettes, craft material paper bags, woven carpets, currency material and biodegradable hair extensions.
“The fruit is used in the production of health drinks, like juice and wines. It is also recommended as a dietary supplement. From green bananas, one can extract starch used in baking and the production of other food supplements,” he said.
Okurut added that in countries like DR Congo, the male bud of the banana plant (mpumumpu) is processed into flour used to produce soup.
In Uganda, it can be harvested and packaged as animal feed. Resistant starch can also be extracted from green bananas.
Another benefit of green bananas is that they provide dietary fibre that promotes a healthy gut.
Bananas are also eaten raw, to manage colon cancer. Bananas have also been identified as good food for weight management and help in the prevention and management of diabetes.
Okurut added that one can extract industrial bioethanol that accounts for 15% of petroleum blended fuels (15%) and, if adopted, it could save Uganda an import bill of $175m.
The ethanol produced can also be used in the production of personal care products, sterilising equipment and production of sanitiser.
Banana fibres extracted from pseudo stems produce textiles, fabric, furniture, briquettes and biodegradable hair extensions. Others are woven carpets, ropes and rugs, paper (tissue, boards, packing bags, currency notes.
Just like any other crop, for one to harvest the required quantity and quality, good seed is key.
“When planning to plant bananas, consider the source of seed, cost, quality and how well that seed can survive the various pests and diseases,” Okurut told farmers at the expo.
He explained that one should go for tissue-cultured banana plantlets produced from the same plant, but multiplied faster in the laboratory.
Alternatively, one could go for suckers, but quickly warns of the possibility of carrying diseases, especially banana bacterial wilt and weevils, among others.
“If not sure, visit the nearest research station or work with extensions workers to help in guiding on the appropriate source of seed,” he added.
From fibre, one can produce textiles, fabric, furniture, briquettes and biodegradable hair extensions. Others are woven carpets, ropes and rugs.