Kenyan stirring banana revolution beyond the borders

By: RACHEL KIBUI

The mouth-watering juice in clear one-litre bottles is tempting in the sweltering heat of the midday sun. Rows upon rows of them are lined on long tables. A jovial young man, in a white apron and beige trousers, is ready to sell you the mango-like juice for UgSh3,000 (Sh100) a bottle.

Sam Turyatunga, who just sat his final exams at Kyambogo University, is here to showcase ‘‘Uhuru’’, a brand of banana juice he has been producing for the last two years. He ventured into the business to raise school fees, but it is now a thriving enterprise employing 10 people.

The Food Science and Technology student thought of making banana juice, an idea he shared with his lecturer, who assisted him with equipment and requested the university management to allow him to use its food laboratory as a production unit.

“I started by producing just five litres a day but I am now making up to 500 litres,” he says.

Turyatunga is not alone. At Biharwe, some 300 kilometres north-west of the Ugandan capital Kampala, we have tracked down Kimani Muturi, a Kenyan who is leading the banana value-addition revolution beyond his borders.

It is here, overlooking the Ankole Hills and Mountains of the Moon (Ruwenzoris) further on the horizon, that we learn there is much more one can get from a banana beyond the ripe as well as boiled ones we eat; and the leaves, stock and peelings we feed our livestock.

Muturi informs us that indeed one can make up to ten items from bananas, ranging from edibles to ornaments.

SHOES

“You can also put on shoes made from banana stems while banana fibre is used to make biodegradable bags and mats. Besides, briquettes made from banana waste are now being used for cooking,” said Muturi, a lecturer at Kyambogo University in Kampala and the director of AfriBanana Products Limited, which help small-scale entrepreneurs to increase their earnings through value addition.

We speak on the sidelines of this exhibition, where banana agribusinesses and government officials have gathered for the launch of new value-addition that will see banana production streamlined, and if followed through, can change the face of the banana business in East Africa.

It is the inauguration of the banana value chain agribusiness incubator centre where anyone interested in banana production and value addition will be hosted so that their talents can be nurtured. They will be here until they are able to stand on their own.

AfriBanana Products Limited will provide them with the equipment, link them to both local and international markets and manufacturing as well as provide them with capital.

The organisation will also help the traders get cleared by the Ugandan Bureau of Standards after ensuring manufactures of high-quality products.

While the Pearl of Africa, so-named by Winston Churchill for its rich flora and fauna, has always been the hotbed of bananas, the industry needs streamlining and robust value addition if it is to benefit from this crop, the don says.

According to Muturi, who is a textile expert, the innovators who will be taught how to utilise everything the banana produces, will not be charged at the premises.

“Locals have been making some of these products including juice and wine in their homes and this has seen them clash with Ugandan authorities over standards. But the new facility is expected to change banana farming as we know it,” he explained.

Turyatunga has also given hope to banana farmers in his native Wakiso District. Just like many other people in value-chain under AfriBanana Limited, he buys bananas from local farmers.

“I buy a 20kg bunch at a regular price of UgSh12,000 (Sh400) while brokers offer between UgSh7,000-UgSh8,000 (Sh235-Sh270),” says Turyatunga.

He gets 30 litres of banana juice from each bunch and sells a litre at UgSh2,400 (Sh80) for the wholesale and UgSh3,000 (Sh100) for the retail market.

BROKERS

According to Muturi, brokers sell the same produce for up to UgSh20,000 (about Sh700) in Kampala, three times what they give farmers. A few metres away, Miriam Kushaba displays her banana wine, called Tina, which she named after her last-born daughter Matina.

Miriam left teaching for music before venturing into banana farming. It was in 2011 when a friend who was manufacturing banana wine inspired her to take it up as well.

“From one bunch of bananas weighing about 20 kgs, I get 40 litres of wine worth UgSh1.6 million (Sh53,000). The same bunch would only earn me about UgSh8,000 (Sh270) if I was to sell it through brokers,” says Miriam.

She says there are a few more production costs from water, yeast, sweeteners and other ingredients, but that does not take away the huge profit from turning bananas into wine.

These profits are even more staggering considering she does not need to buy bananas as she has her own plantations covering over 100 acres.

In June she produced 400 litres of wine, the highest so far. She sells the wine mainly to local bars within Mbarara, the largest city in western Uganda. Like Turyatunga, Miriam will be a beneficiary of the AfriBanana Products Limited incubator.

Kimani says the premises will comprise several production units and will make it easier for the manufacturers to be cleared by the Uganda Bureau of Standards.

Raw bananas are also prepared for markets in the US and UK. The NGO has so far supported 52 agribusinesses, including 20 SMEs and 32 individuals, reaching in total 4,000 farmers.

Can Kenyan farmers benefit? According to Muturi, Kenyans will need to start thinking in terms of processing.

“Nothing should be wasted from a banana, including leaves and the stock which Ugandans are using to make mats. I am happy Kenyans are beginning to take this direction,” he says.

“Recently, officials from Murang’a and Kisii – both big banana-producing areas – came here to see how their counties can benefit from the technologies.”