Just like apple bananas, the cavendish, commonly known as bogoya is a popular delicacy.
A cluster goes for between Shs5,000 and Shs10,000, depending on the size and where you buy it.
However, its high perishability forces sellers not to keep it for long, thus they sometimes sell it hurriedly at a lower price before it gets bad.
Because of this, 34-year-old Aisha Alowo, a resident of Lubongo village in Ngogwe Sub-county, Buikwe District decided to start adding value to bogoya so that she could earn more.
Alowo has been involved in solar drying of bogoya since 2014.
As a farmer, Alowo says, she owns a banana plantation, which includes bogoya variety.
She says, previously she used to sell her bogoya to traders from Kampala and South Sudan, who paid her between Shs5,000 and Shs7,000 for a bunch.
“However, when I asked how much they were selling the bunches, I was told they sold twice the price I sold to them,” Alowo says before adding, “I got furious when I discovered that the traders were earning more than me in just a few hours, and decided to start drying my produce.”
She adds that, she had earlier through the Naads programme visited some farmers in Kayunga District, who were involved in pineapple solar drying
To start the project, Alowo used savings from her garden (Shs450,000) to buy one solar drier and trays on which to dry the bogoya chips. She did all the work herself.
She then harvested 10 mature bunches of bogoya which she kept in a dry and clean store, to ripen. After only five days, the bogoya was ripe and ready for slicing.
However, because the bogoya she harvests from her garden are not enough to sustain her project all the time, she also buys some from Nakifuma Market in Mukono District and from individual farmers in the area.
She says she buys a bunch between Shs8,000 and Shs10,000. From one big bunch of bogoya Alowo gets three to four kilogrammes of dried produce.
She sells a kilogramme of the dried bogoya at Shs10,000 a kilo. That means from one bunch, she gets Shs30,000 and when she deducts all the costs she remains with about Shs18,000.
Every week, Alowo says, she sells at least 300 kilogrammes of the dried fruit to numerous companies that export the produce to Europe. This means every week she earns about Shs3m and when she deducts all the expenses, she says she remains with Shs1.5m per week.
“The companies place their orders which I have to produce without fail,” she says.
Alowo says she is cautious while harvesting the bananas for slicing. “You must harvest only mature fruit, which must also be stored in a clean and dry store,” Alowo reveals.
She says it is however, good to harvest mature but not ripe bananas because if they all ripen at the same time, she cannot dry all of them at once.
Besides all this, high levels of proper sanitation and hygiene should be observed in order to produce high quality produce.
The biggest challenge Alowo faces is the limited supply of bananas on the market. This, she ponders, is because the banana wilt disease has wiped out most of the sweet banana plants in the area
Also, she competes in terms of prices with traders, who take the bogoya to South Sudan, as these ones hike the prices.
“Because of this, I have to pay higher prices to get them,” she notes.
Secondly, the cost of solar driers is high with one drier going for Shs500,000.
Because the driers are highly eroded by the high temperatures, Alowo has to dig deep into her pockets to either refurbish or buy a new one every eight months.
Alowo has been able to buy more pieces of land using proceeds from the venture. She has used the land to expand her banana plantation and also grow other crops.
She has also been able to pay her children’s school fees using earnings from her business.
Alowo plans to start exporting her produce direct to the European market.
This would help her eliminate middlemen, which would increase her earnings.
But this she says requires her to invest more in the project to increase on the quality because after buying from them, the middlemen again do some more processing on the produce.
How to manage a banana plantation
Here we discuss how you will desucker, how to mulch, how to stake, how to bag, how to deflower and how to apply fertilisers on your plantation.
This involves uprooting excess suckers from a banana mat. You will do this in order to suit the harvest frequency. Removing of the side shoot is done until the emergence of flowers 1-3 stems at most per mat (i.e. the bearing one, the follower and the sucker). Sucker management is important to avoid high mats and to maintain proper spacing. High or many suckers per mat could easily fall.
This is used to conserve moisture in the soils, and to reduce rainfall runoff to avoid erosion. Mulch also improves the soil as the mulch material rots. However, mulch is known to serve as a breeding place for banana weevils and other pests. Additionally, if you placed your mulch too close to the mother plant, it will affect the growth of the young suckers. This means you need to work out a balanced approach to mulching your banana plantation in Uganda.
Bananas are susceptible to wind and should be staked to provide extra support to the banana stems. Banana cultivars that bear very big bunches are most susceptible to heavy winds. You normally do your banana staking using a forked pole.
This involves majorly covering the banana bunch with a treated polythene bag to minimise sooty mold (Furry growth of fungus), insect damage and abrasion injury to the fruits.
Once all the fingers have developed the rest of the inflorescence including the male flower bud) should be removed to reduce incidences of fungus and insect attack.
Bananas absorb a lot of nutrients from the soil. Therefore there is need for you to replenish the soil using external sources such as the farm yard manure, crop residues, homestead and kitchen refuse. You should however avoid applying metals or polythene on your banana plants. You should never apply manure too close to the banana mat as this would encourage banana weevils to breed and will also result in the high mat condition.