Ugandan Firm Makes Sustainable Products from Banana

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by KnowESG
KnowESG_Ugandan Firm Makes Sustainable Products from Banana
Image courtesy of AP Photo/Hajarah Nalwadda

Banana plant stems, once the fruit is harvested, are often considered of little value. Removing these stems from the ground is labour-intensive, and subsequent efforts involve crushing the plant waste into smaller pieces for spreading in the fields.

However, is there a more efficient and sustainable approach to dealing with this plant waste? In Uganda, a pioneering company believes the answer is a resounding "yes." This enterprise is dedicated to collecting banana stems, processing the plant material, and crafting innovative products.

This concept is both innovative and eco-friendly in Uganda, a country where banana plants hold immense significance. Uganda boasts the world's highest banana consumption rate and is the leading banana crop producer in Africa.

A local startup, TEXFAD, is leading the charge in repurposing banana plant waste, now turning it into a profitable venture. TEXFAD collects and utilises plant tissue to create an array of products, including floor coverings, home goods containers, and more.

Heading the business division of TEXFAD is John Baptist Okello, who has shared that this initiative makes perfect sense in a nation where farmers grapple with millions of tonnes of discarded banana-related waste.

Collaborating with seven distinct farmers' groups in western Uganda, TEXFAD pays $2.70 per kilogram of dried fibre. In Sheema District, for instance, farmer group leader David Bangirana noted that only a fraction of the stem is used for fibre while the rest of the crushed plant material is returned to the farmers as fertiliser.

Additionally, TEXFAD sources materials from a third party, Tupande Holdings Ltd. This company's trucks transport banana stems from central Uganda's farmers. Tupande Holdings Ltd.'s workers meticulously select the stems with the best fibre potential. These chosen stems are then processed by machines, transforming them into threads—thin, elongated pieces of cloth.

Aggrey Muganga, the team leader at Tupande Holdings Ltd., revealed that their company collaborates with over 60 farmers who consistently supply an excess of raw material. This number, however, represents only a fraction of the available potential in a nation where banana crops occupy more than a million hectares of land.

Over the years, banana production has been on the rise. According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, banana production increased from 6.5 metric tonnes in 2018 to 8.3 metric tonnes in 2019. Muganga stated that their efforts provide additional income to the farmers, saying, "We turn this waste into something valuable that we sell to our partners who also make things."

Located just outside Uganda's capital, Kampala, TEXFAD employs a workforce of more than 30 individuals who craft products from banana fibre by hand. In a significant development, the company is now exporting some of these products to Europe. This achievement is possible because, as Okello pointed out, "banana fibre can be softened to the level of cotton."

TEXFAD is also actively exploring the production of paper products using this versatile material and is collaborating with researchers to experiment with the potential for banana fibre-based fabrics. However, Okello noted that the technology required to manufacture clothing from banana fibre remains a work in progress.

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Source: The Associated Press

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