By Kezirone Wokubira

In the last few months, since the outbreak of the COVID 19, pandemic, banana Farmers suffered a historical price fall crisis for their bananas, the price of a bunch of banana commonly referred to as Matooke dropped to almost 5000 shillings ($1) from its 20,000 shillings mark in open market(about $4). This frustration was an awakening call for many farmers and to government to enhance the value addition aspect for banana value chain.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries in partnership with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization and the Global Environment Facility. Have established Value addition facilities and also kick started training of various banana cooperatives and group representatives in western part of Uganda. This is aimed at increasing addition of value to banana for food security and enhanced incomes.

The partnership project known as the Banana Livelihoods Diversification Project, has delivered 9 processing facilities, 1 Juice Processing facility in Bushenyi, 4 wineries, 4 Banana Solar Drying Facilities and 200 bio-digesters and envisages that by adding value to bananas and storing them for much longer, the farmers who have been making losses whenever there is a bumper harvest will be able to save their harvest.

During a recent project visit by the Minister of Agriculture, Animal industry and fisheries Honorable Vincent Bamulangaki Ssempijja, He commended the project establishment, thanking the partners for accepting to work with the government to save the banana farmers in the region.

“Perishable products have very low shelf life, this has made it hard for our farmers to bargain and set good prices for the banana, this fails fair price principles, I am very happy this facility is here, farmers shall now not rush into giving away their bananas at low prices to the middlemen.” Said Hon sempijja.

The Minister adds that the state-of-the-art equipment will now be put to more use because of the increased production of Bananas from the farmers. He further noted that this project and the established facilities will go along way to increase both value addition and market.

“I urge Farmers to now utilize state of art facilities established to add value and get good prices for the banana. Let us grow enough banana, knowing we have the facilities to add value and get the better prices” said the Minister.

Through this project, more entrepreneurs in #agribusiness are supported to add value to Bananas, also known as Matooke, and process products like Wine, Banana Chips and Flour which fetch higher prices and profits for them and the #farmers linked to the facilities.

The facilities supported through the Project also receive standard equipment that enables them to process the highest quantity and quality of products possible.

These interventions are aimed at increasing Banana value addition in the districts of of Mbarara, Ntungamo, Isingiro, Bushenyi, Sheema, Mitooma, Buhweju and Rubirizi.

According to Mr Ambrose Owesigire the an agribusiness consultant in Mbarara , the project is so timely, this will help farmers rethink the market and transform them into agriprenuers,

“We are glad to receive this project, this has been long awaited, some organizations have been trying to innovate value addition models but government has not been supporting and yet the demand is overwhelming. “adds Owesigire.

Joyce Rukundo, a farmer from Ntungamo district, farming under Sasakawa global 2000, appreciated the project saying as farmers, many had lost hope in banana as an enterprise and were contemplating cutting down plantations for coffee and maize.

“We have suffered and the prices have been low, this makes us sale off our produce because we fear to see our bananas rot in the field. So we opted to let go and feed some to our animals, this has come handy.” Adds Joyce.

Ugandans have been feeding on Bananas (matooke) for so many years. According to estimates, over 10million tonnes are produced every year. It is also estimated that at least 10million people feed on bananas as their main food in Uganda and many more feed on it across the region.  However, there is a lot of wastage of the banana. Experts say that for many years, the fact that the banana was only eaten as a direct food meant that a lot of it was wasted.

Past efforts to add Value:

PIBID Plant in Bushenyi Established for value addition.

In 2005, The President wanted to stop banana waste, he set up the Presidential Initiative on Banana Industrial Development (PIBID).  His aim was to help the banana sector turn the banana into a more valued food-by processing it into other products.

When PIBID was set up, its main areas of focus were Value addition & Quality control operations, Marketing & Rural enterprise debt, Production. And it was envisioned to establish state-of-the-art banana processing enterprises in Uganda, producing value-added matooke products with competitive market strength both locally and globally, manned by rural farmers/ entrepreneurs.

However, according to analysts, this seems to have failed, as many farmers continue to suffer and fail to access the multibillion banana processing facility in bushenyi. According to farmers, this attributed to more managerial issues and lack of focus in the original goal of facilitating the development of state-of-the-art banana-based sustainable processing enterprises, applying Technology Business Incubator (TBI) and Industrial Technology Park (ITP) system principles to help farmers/ entrepreneurs, and to sustainably add value to matooke to yield profitable and competitive products.