How we can get more from the banana stem

What you need to know:

  • Most farmers consider banana stems to be of less value but it can be a source of quite a number of products, writes Eseri Watsemwa

The banana stem is considered to be of less value compared to other parts of the banana. Some see it as a feed for livestock; others use it to make compost or mulch. Bur banana stems can be much more than that.

At TexFad Vocational Incubator, located in Bweyogerere, Wakiso, is where a number of gifted hands spend hours adding value to the banana stem to make it count.

In its backyard, a man in his early 30s sweats away while operating a machine. He occasionally inserts the layers at one end as wet fibre come out from the other end. TexFad’s assistant administrator Glorious Kemigisha explains the process.

How much fibre?
“We gather stems from neighbouring communities through our middle man. In a month, about 260 to 390 banana stems are collected from Namboole, Kakajo and Kyambogo,” she says.

Initially, farmers used to give them stems for free before they discovered what they were using them for. They charge Shs300 for each stem.

The collector brings about 130 stems each time and these are extracted in five days.

Extraction is done twice or thrice in a month. Winnie Byekwaso, TexFad’s business manager says the amount of fibre extracted also depends on the size and thickness of the stem. For instance, one big stem can produce about 15 fibres.

Varieties such as Musa, Ndizzi and Cavendish (bogoya) have more fibre compared to the food type (matooke).

Each layer of the banana fibre is removed carefully so as to fit in the extracting machine, like you would fit a paper into a printer, to achieve long and wet fibre.

This fibre is then hang to dry in the sun for 30 to 40 minutes, depending on how hot it is. At the end of the day, all dried fibre is used to make different products. Here are some of them:
Rags
The size and thickness of the stem determines the amount of fibre extracted to make a rag.

From one big and fleshy stem, they extract fibre that can make a rag worth Shs80,000.

Two small stems provide fibre that can make the same rag. A smaller rag costs Shs40,000 and bigger ones cost between Shs100,000 and Shs250, 000.

Other products
Gilbert Wakhasa who has weaved table mats for two years says he uses a counter jack for weaving table mats and a wooping mill to make cotton woops that are used for putting the fibre together during weaving.

In a day, he weaves between six to seven metres of table mats.
A set of table mats that comprises of six small table mats measuring up to six inches each, and one runner of 49 inches costs Shs50, 000.

Coasters cost Shs30,000 per set of 16 covers; photo frames cost Shs15,000. Other products include; lampshades, bags, purses, photo frames, invitation cards for different functions, shawls, wall clocks, jewellery (necklaces and earrings) and jewellery boxes, wall hangings, conference tags, menu and conference folders, catalogues, and ceiling boards, among others.

At the moment, the incubator is trying to add value on shoes and also have procedures for making paper, which they are producing on small; scale.

Extracted fibre is also dyed to add colourful instead of the usual cream or white products.

In the end, Byekwaso says, the banana stem as whole is useful, since the incubator’s aim is to utilise it to zero waste.

Briquettes
The residues produced during extraction are sun dried for about a week and then used to make charcoal briquettes.
“We are also trying to collect sap from the stems during extraction. Instead of using cassava flour for binding while making briquettes, we will use the sap,” she notes.

However, in future, they also intend to make compost for soil out of residues from extraction to give back to farmers.

Expert’s notes
Banana fibre is extracted from the pseudo stem sheath of the plant.
The extraction can be done mainly in three ways: Manual, chemical and mechanical.

Of these, mechanical extraction is the best way to obtain fibre of both good quality and quantity in an eco-friendly way.

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