Several banana farmers countrywide continue to register post-harvest losses occasioned by a number of factors, including lack of market, the Covid-19 pandemic and shrewd middlemen taking advantage of them.
However, there is no more lamentation in Rakai District as farmers have devised means of adding value to the excess produce to avoid losses. Some farmers elsewhere have hailed the approach and hope to draw lessons.
One such farmer is Ms Hasifah Ariniitwe. For many years, she has suffered post-harvest losses occasioned by a number of factors, including lack of market for her bananas commonly known as matooke.
A prominent farmer with a big plantation in Rwabaganda Village, Kyarurangira Sub-county in Rakai District, Ms Ariniitwe has been selling her matooke at a giveaway price.
Initially, most farmers in the sub-counties of Kyarurangira, Kiziba, Kibanda, Kacheera and Kagamba were selling a large bunch of matooke between Shs1,000 and Shs2,000 while the smallest one could go for as low as Shs200.
The problem was compounded by the novel Covid-19 pandemic, which saw several markets closed for failure to adhere to Covid-19 guidelines.
Mr James Byamukama, a resident of Kyarurangira Village, says the bad road network in the area has also been hampering proper movement of trucks that pick matooke.
Desperate moments call for desperate measures, goes the old adage. And for Ms Ariniitwe and other banana farmers, they had to act fast.
“We had to come up with a solution since our energy was being wasted yet we inject a lot of money in our plantations,” she says.
The farmers then embarked on adding value to bananas by turning it into flour.
Bananas are harvested before they ripen, and are then peeled. Each banana finger is chopped into three to four small pieces and later spread in the sun for about a week to dry thoroughly.
After drying, the matooke is taken to a maize milling machine which grinds it to produce flour. A kilogramme of dry matooke is ground at Shs200.
Ms Ariniitwe explains that they display the slices of matooke on clean, bare ground to dry instead of tarpaulins as the latter make it wet.
Between two and three kilograms of flour are secured from a big bunch of Matooke, according to Ms Ariniitwe.
“The matooke peelings we get make very good compost and we put them in our gardens to work as manure,” she explains. When the matooke flour is processed, it is mixed with some maize or millet flour to make it a bit hard.
Some of the flour is packaged and sold in markets while some is kept at home to serve as both porridge and food.
According to Ms Ariniitwe, they plan to sell a kilogramme of matooke flour between Shs1,500 and Shs2,000.
She says if they get support from the government, they will be able to transform the matooke flour to make products such as biscuits, cakes and pastry.
According to Ms Janat Ndagire, a councillor representing Kiziba and Kyarurangira sub-counties in the district council, some residents have succeeded in making food and porridge out of matooke flour.
“Whoever has tasted the porridge can confirm that it is good. We, therefore, urge all farmers to emulate those who have come up with this innovation,” She says.
Mr Hadad Mulindwa, the agriculture minister in Kooki chiefdom, hails the initiative, saying it will help farmers avoid making losses due to the low banana prices.
“Those farmers now need some technical and financial support so that the matooke flour is produced in large quantities and we pledge to help them as an institution,” Mr Mulindwa says.
Agriculture minister Vincent Ssempijja says they are lobbying Cabinet to create a special fund to help farmers find market for their produce.
“I personally sympathise with our farmers who have failed to find market for their produce but we are not seated as government. Very soon I will unveil a new plan on how they will be helped to boost their businesses and also get market for their produce,” Mr Ssempijja says.
According to Ministry of Agriculture records, more than seven million Ugandans depend on bananas as their staple food.
However, farmers have for long complained that they are not getting their sweat’s worth. The country produces about 10 million tonnes of matooke annually, which is 30 per cent of the world production.