Banana farmers across the country have endured many years of frustration arising from lack of market, pests and diseases, and low productivity, among others.
In seasons of high productivity, a bunch of matooke sometimes goes for as low as Shs1,000, to the disappointment of farmers who invest a lot in terms of fertilisers and labour.
To overcome these challenges, the Ministry of Agriculture in 2015 injected Shs10b into the Banana Livelihoods Diversification Project to support vulnerable communities in western region to adapt better to the effects of climate change through value-addition.
Under the project that is funded by the World Bank under the Global Investment Facility (GEF), farmers were facilitated to add value to bananas through drying and processing to produce flour that can be packed and consumed in periods of scarcity. They were also trained to process bananas into wine, biscuits and other products.
Since then, the farmers have started reaping the fruits. Last week, the Minister of Agriculture, Mr Vincent Ssempijja, commissioned about nine banana processing facilities in Mbarara and Bushenyi districts.
Speaking at the commissioning, the national focal officer for the project, Mr Stephen Biribonwa, said the initiative has greatly impacted livelihoods.
“During the time of bumper harvest, the prices of banana go as low as Shs2,000 a bunch. So what we have been telling them as government is that mainly during that time, they can buy the banana, ripen it and transform it into wine or juice,” Mr Biribonwa said.
“The good thing now is for wine to mature, it starts from nine months, so you can produce as much wine as possible during the bumper season,” he added.
Mr Biribonwa also said the project promotes environment conservation through use of biogas.
“This project has that element of climate change; in some households they have improved in that they are using biogas,” Mr Biribonwa said.
The director of Forest Fruit Foods, who are the producers of Eshande banana juice in Bushenyi, Mr Willington Naijuka, said about 450 farmers have benefitted from juice processing in the area.
What farmers say
“We currently have 450 farmers in south western Uganda who supply us with raw materials because the factory is small hold supported,” Mr Naijuka said.
Mr Silver Tumwesigye, the director of Silgad Investment Limited, which produces Red Star Wine, said they started producing only 20 litres of wine in 2013 but they are now able to produce 20,000 litres of wine every month.
Mr Tumwesigye said about 350 farmers have benefited from the facility.
“We produce wines and Enturire premium drinks. All our wines are from banana and grapes then Enturire premium is from premium sorghum and honey. About 350 farmers benefit from our services for both grapes and bananas,” he said.
Mr Tumwesigye said they have been able to increase their production and quality after getting support from the government and GEF.
“Government and its development partners have provided us with equipment that include processing facilities, automated processing lines, stainless fermentation tanks, testing equipment and biogas. All these have enabled us to improve our quality of wine, increase in production from 5000-20,000 litres per month that has made us build our stock to 250,000 litres,” Mr Tumwesigye said.
However, Mr Tumwesigye decried high taxes and interest rates on loans.
Mr Ssempijja observed that due to the enormous challenges faced by the bananas, growing of the crop needed to be enhanced.
“Banana is one of the most important food commodities in Uganda. It is a source of livelihood to about 72 per cent of the population. Bananas directly support 17 million people in rural and urban areas,” he said.
Mr Ssempijja said the project is in line with the country’s agro-industrialisation agenda under the National Development Plan III.
“Nine banana processing facilities have been supported and these include four wineries, one banana juice facility and four banana drying facilities. The project also supported banana farmers through distributing tissue-cultured plantlets (disease-free), constructing biogas facilities as a clean energy source and source of bio-slurry as organic fertiliser,” he said.
“I encourage the processors to strive to greater heights by producing quality and safe products that can compete at a global level. This will strengthen the country’s efforts to increase exports as well as enhance import substitution,” he added.
The ministry of Agriculture in 2015 injected Shs10b into the Banana Livelihoods Diversification Project to support vulnerable communities in western Uganda to better adapt to effects of climate change through value addition activities to provide greater opportunities for income generation, poverty reduction and food security.