Elite banana variety tames Uganda’s imports

Banana farmers in Uganda are adopting the first maturing and more profitable plantain banana in a bid to tame the country’s over reliance from Democratic republic of Congo as appetite for Ugandan staple rises with an average Ugandan consuming about 350kilos of banana a year.

Plantain banana commonly known as Gonja is a delicacy among many locals. After ripening, the banana is roasted and mostly served with roasted chicken or meat. Markets on major highways like Namawojollo, Najembe are among the huge consumers of this species of banana.

Proscovia Nambiro a trader from Nawajjolo market has been roasting the fruit and selling it to travelers along the Jinja Kampala highway for over a decade. She is among the traders that are being forced to pay an extra coin due to the costs of imported plantain. “Initially we could source for the plantain banana locally and therefore had a better bargain. However for the last four years, we have depleted our local supplies with most farmers opting for other quick maturing banana varieties.” The shift in farmers’ ventures impacted negatively on the traders who had to seek for other alternative sources. “The plantain is a delicacy and very marketable here in Namwawojjolo market and therefore we had to seek for supplies from outside the country in order to remain in this lucrative market. However, the import from Congo is proving to be costly with a small bunch of plantains costing about Ush30000 almost double the price to the local supply,” explained Nambiro. At the market, two fingers of roasted plantains cost Ush1000.

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Most farmers in the country dumped the plantains due to their relatively longer maturity period. The plantains take almost six more months than ordinary bananas to grow and fruit. However, the release of recent fast maturing species from National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) coupled with increased awareness campaigns have revived the re-adoption of the banana on Ugandan farms.

Currently most Western and central region farmers lead the way in its cultivation. Charles Mulwana a farmer from Mukono in the central region is among those farmers reviving the adoption and deepening of plantain banana cultivation. “I started out on Plantain cultivation on trial basis with 20 suckers that I got from a neighbor. I continued planting them and at the moment, I have over 80 plants, although my target is to have at least two acres of my land under gonja in the next few years. The fact that they have done well on my farm is testimony to the fact that Ugandans can produce across most parts of country. Why should we continue importing gonja when it can be produced here?

Mulwana further explained that the fertile soils and reliable weather within most parts in the country makes it easy to adopt and cultivate the crop. “Our Gonja here tastes better than the imported one and that is mainly due to the good soils and weather that the crop thrives on,” he added.

The crop is ideal for commercial basis due to the immense market available. “I do not struggle with market issues because traders come to the farm when alerted about the availability of the fruit. I sell at farm gate rates of between Ush15-20000 depending on the size and this leaves the trader with a better bargain since the market rates for the imports from DRC are double that price.” In addition, traders prefer the local supply due to them being fresher than the imported ones that take quite a while to reach the destinations.

Other than the financial benefits that accrue from growing gonja, it is also a major source of vital nutrients. Gonja is rich in vitamin A, which helps check poor night vision, dry inflamed eyes, dry and rough skin, diarrhoea and loss of appetite. The plantain also increases resistance to infections such as a cold. Severe deficiency of Vitamin A may cause weak bones and teeth and in extreme cases partial blindness.  

Steamed gonja comprises vitamin B6 and C, which boost immunity. Vitamin C plays a significant role in the production of collagen, a structural protein that strengthens blood vessels, aiding body tissue development and boosts immunity to diseases. Gonja improves body flexibility by energizing the body thus reducing fatigue and acting as an anti-depressant. The plantain also supports brain function, boosting memory and checking nervous system disorders and anaemia. Doctors recommend three servings of plantain per week to keep healthy.

Ugandans are big plantain and banana consumers. Uganda is the second largest banana growing country after India with over 75 percent of the farmers growing the crop. The heightened inclusion and adoption of the plantain variety is expected to cement the population’s consumption of the fruit with current statistics indicating that an average Ugandan eats about 350kg of banana a year.