A trip down, to western Uganda, is full proof of bumper harvests. From Kasese to Kamwenge, Ibanda, Ntungamo and Mbarara districts, the green banana, locally known as matooke (in Luganda), is readily available for sale.
Different markets, trading centres, bus and matatu stops, are teeming with the agricultural commodity.
Locals are seen pushing bicycles loaded with matooke too as they make their way to markets.
On the Ntungamo stretch to Mbarara, you can get a sizeable bunch of matooke for between Shs12,000 and Shs7,000, depending on your bargaining power or abilities.
The prices shoot up if you are to buy the same bunches of matooke in markets in Kampala and its suburbs.
Ali Kabasa, a trader in Kalerwe, sells bunches of matooke for between Shs10,000 and Shs25,000, depending on size.
He offloads 50 bunches of the commodity every day, selling to individuals for domestic consumption and to commercial establishments such as restaurants and hotels.
The matooke he buys is mainly from the Ankole agricultural corridor which is preferred for the quality and size of the fingers.
The smaller bunch that fetches Shs15,000 in Kalerwe, attracts Shs18,000 in Bunga market, a price difference, Eva Lunkuse, attributes this to more transport costs incurred.
She sells a bigger bunch at
Shs20,000 and the biggest at Shs25,000, the same price Kabasa sells it at in Kalerwe.
The argument for selling at averagely same price for bigger bunches, is their target clientele of restaurants and hotels which prefer bigger matooke fingers in order to realise commercial sense and rewards.
Downtown Kampala, at Kafumbe Mukasa market, Isah Ssali Ssentongo, has matooke bunches that go for as much as Shs35,000. Their sizes are not common in Kalerwe and Bunga. “Much of the matooke you find in other markets, is bought from here (Kafumbe Mukasa) since this is the first stop for the trucks that bring food into the city, so we chance on getting the best bunches,” he says. He has a duo selling proposition for the bigger bunches.
He can sell them whole, to hotels as well as to smaller traders who sell in portions of fingers or heaps to domestic buyers and consumers.
In Bunga market, Kamiat Nalutaaya and Rose Namujju sell in such small rations, and explain that they are keen on numbers depending on the size of the fingers, saving two fingers for every 10 fingers.
John Bosco Bulega is another small scale matooke trader who says he sells six to seven big fingers of matooke for Shs1,000 and eight to 12 smaller fingers at Shs1,000.
He sells a heap of about 20 fingers at Shs2,000. Bigger traders like Kabasi incur more costs.
He says they have to pay transport costs as well as market levies (empooza). He pays between Shs2,500 and Shs300 market levies in Mbarara trading centres from where he buys the matooke and Shs500 to administrators of Kalerwe market.
All traders agree that Mbarara or Ankole in general supplies better matooke owing to fertility of soils and good agronomic practices compared to other areas of the country which produce smaller bunches and thus smaller fingers.
Kabasa and Lunkuse argue that matooke from places such as Masaka District, which were previously traditional matooke growing corridors, have over time dropped in quality as evidenced from the smaller fingers and hardness, making them unpopular with both traders and consumers.
However, Lunkuse adds that not all the matooke she buys will fetch her an anticipated price.
“Sometimes you will buy a bunch of matooke and have to sell it at the cost price owing to the abundant availability thus supply being readily available and as such rather than let the matooke ripen, you sell it off at a cost price or at a loss,” she explains. From experience, Bulega purchases a bag of matooke fingers every day which he is sure to sell off. Each bag will cost him for any price between Shs100,000 to Shs150,000, depending on season and size of fingers.
Kabasa says matooke could be sold for less but the transport costs explain the seemingly high prices. “If fuel prices drop, I am able to buy more and sell more,” he adds. To Ssentongo, accumulated debt from customers who are unwilling to clear their dues, has affected his finances and as such, he has gone slow on lending produce to clients who do not fulfil their pledge to pay back.
On the whole, selling matooke, which is mainly consumed in central and western Uganda as a staple food, continues to make business sense to many traders whose volumes are reflective of the commercial reward, earning between Shs3,000 to Shs10,000 off each bunch.