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The ups and downs of bananas February 8th, 2015 by

Bananas are a great topic for training people to make videos for farmers. For one, you can find bananas year round. And second, when you have trainees coming in from different tropical countries, you can be sure they all know something about bananas.

I join one of the groups with trainees from Egypt, Malawi, Kenya and Uganda. Under the shade of the beautiful “flame tree” (Grevillea) in the courtyard of a community member, we meet the Maisha Bora Women’s Group in Tinganga village, central Kenya, to learn from them how to make banana flour.

People here have grown up eating cooked or grilled bananas and plantains daily, so many no longer want to eat two big meals of the fruit a day and are looking for different foods, which has pushed down banana prices. As a result farmers started growing fewer bananas.

“But we noticed that our men were still eating cooked bananas at the butchery, while they never ate bananas at home anymore,” says the chairperson Margaret Ruhiu.

In rural Kenya, butcheries are often open air bars where people meet, have a drink, and eat some grilled meat, locally called nyama choma.

The Maisha Bora group of 10 women started to do their own local research, as they wanted to find out what their men liked about bananas.

“From our men we learned that they still eat bananas as it helps them to deal with hang overs, reduces stress and increases their libido.”

So the group began searching the internet to find ways to process bananas into different products.

“For long, whether cooked or raw, we have eaten bananas while removing the peels. We learned from the internet that by peeling bananas you lose important nutrients, as many nutrients are in the juice of the peel. By turning the bananas with peel into flour, it is more nutritious and better for your health. Among other things, it is very good for people who have problems with blood pressure or blood sugar.”

Two years later, the women members are all excited, as the banana flour sells really well, and men and children eat bananas again at home, albeit in a different form, as porridge.

The process is really simple. Unpeeled, green bananas or plantains are chopped into small pieces, put on screens in a solar dryer for three to five days, and then ground in a mill. The flour is made from any green banana or plantain (as long as they are not ripe, as they need the sap from the green skin).

The women’s husbands now even recommend the banana flour to their friends at the butchery bar, and have brought new clients to the group.

Maisha Bora means “Better Life” in the Kiswahili language. Not only have the members bettered their lives, but the group’s efforts have revived banana and plantain growing in the community.

African farmers are clearly living in the twenty first century. When these organized women feel the need to act, they can do local research to understand the problem, and use electronic ICTs (information communication technologies) like the internet to find new ideas and inspiration that will make a difference.

The video made by the trainees will soon be available on the Access Agriculture website.

The trainees who worked on this video are: Fatuma Akumu from KENAFF (Kenya National Farmers’ Federation), Phillip Chinkhokwe from Farm Radio Malawi, Mark Maiga from Farmers Media in Uganda and Mahmoud Mohammed Abdelrady from the Green Trade Initiative, UNIDO, in Egypt.

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