East African farmers turn tonnes of banana wastes to briquettes, saving forests

Kenya banana farmers are learning from their Ugandan counterparts how to make banana briquettes from banana wastes, putting into good use millions of tonnes of banana peels and stems that have traditionally littered homes, providing alternative source of income and easing Kenyan forestry cover that is losing 5.6million trees daily to charcoal burning and tree harvesting.

The noble idea, that has gained grounds as a result of cross border trade is also spurring a banana briquette market which now promises the over 400,000 smallholder banana farmers in Kenya an added income at a time when banana market glut has affected the farmers income. Farmers first collect the banana skins and peels in one location. They mash up the piles to make a sticky pulp which is then mixed with bits of dried banana stem.

For the ordinary farmers who dont have the simple press machine to turn squeeze the materials together, they form them together into a ball with their balls. After the mixture is pressed into briquettes,it is left outside in the sun for two weeks, and when dry they are ready to be used. “They ignite faster than the traditional briquettes and glows gracefully,”says Yohanna Bosire a banana farmer from Nyakach who has perfected the art of making and selling the briquettes to farmers in the area for the last two years. He has also employed 10 young men to assist him in the trade.

Another farmer group in Murang'a, The Kihoti Banana Wine Makers Association, specializing in making banana wine has also diversified into making briquettes due to the pile of banana stems and peels that have been piling up at their factory after farmers' banana deliveries.

“We now manage to sell over 500 of briquettes every day to local hotels, schools and households. Its ability to light first has been its unique selling point,”said Kamengo Kanyi the group’s chairman.
Such initiatives are being hailed by the government for their role in replacing firewood in most homes that has been blamed for the dwindling forest cover in the country as households use firewood for cooking. This is also seen as an initiative to lighten the load for rural women who traditionally walk long distances to gather firewood.

According to data from Green Africa Foundation, Kenya looses 5.6 million trees daily due to charcoal burning, harvesting and collection of firewood with the main culprits being schools and households that depend on firewood for energy. Kenya’s land has been so heavily logged that it now has less than two percent forest cover. This has not only affected the climate but also the economy, since the country now must import timber from other nations for construction.