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Ugandans can reap big from growing gonja

By Vision Reporter

Added 28th May 2012 06:10 PM

Plantains, commonly referred to as gonja, are a popular delicacy in Uganda. However, not many Ugandans grow it, in spite of its high demand and ready market.

Plantains, commonly referred to as gonja, are a popular delicacy in Uganda. However, not many Ugandans grow it, in spite of its high demand and ready market.

 

Plantains, commonly referred to as gonja, are a popular delicacy in Uganda. However, not many Ugandans grow it, in spite of  its high demand and ready market. UMAR NSUBUGA talked to Eriasa Kyeyune, a plantain farmer in Semuto district, about the benefits of producing gonja locally
 
Plantain is a member of the banana family. It is starchy, low in sugar and can be cooked or roasted over fire, as is the case in Uganda.  
 
This plant takes about one and half years to produce a bunch of bananas, after which the mother plant dies. But new suckers sprout around its base.
 
The current situation
In most markets in Uganda, a small bunch of plantains costs about sh20,000. Just two fingers of plantains cost sh1,000. And yet, growing this delicacy across the country is not as widespread as any money spinner should be.  
 
Many farmers spend money on gonja, yet they could grow it themselves. It is just a few farmers, who are earning from it.
Kyeyune says a research he carried out recently shows that most of the gonja is imported from the Democratic Republic of Congo. 
 
Another survey he carried out in the markets of Matugga, Kawempe, Kalerwe and Mpererwe shows that plantain is on high demand. A big bunch goes for sh30,000, or even more, depending on the number of fingers it has.  
 
Personal testimony
In 2007, I started growing plantains on my farm in Semuto. I got 10 suckers from a friend’s farm and I planted them as an experiment. 
 
Plantains take almost six more months than ordinary bananas to grow, but that did not discourage me. I continued planting them and at the moment, I have over 50 plants, although my target is to have at least an acre under gonja in the next few years. It is easy, because I planted them in my banana shamba. Most people have got similar banana shambas in which they can plant gonja.  
 
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? 
I have also realised that to grow them, the size of your land does not matter. Most farmers start with just a few plants and then keep expanding. 
 
How to grow gonja.  
Like other bananas, gonja is propagated vegetatively. The types of planting materials used are peepers, sword suckers and maiden suckers. Peepers are young suckers appearing above the ground with large scale eaves only.
 
Sword suckers are formed from buds or eyes and bear narrow leaves. Maiden suckers are taller, with broader leaves. 
The recommended spacing is 10ft (3m) x 10ft (3m) and a depth of 0.2m at the onset of the rainy season. About 400 suckers can be planted on one acre. 
 
The dry leaves should be pruned at the beginning of the rainy season and not during the dry season. This helps protect the stem from extreme sunshine, minimising evaporation.  
Gonja matures in about 16 months. 
It is tolerant to the banana weevil. The eggs of the weevil are laid at the base of the sucker so after harvest, the leaf crown and the stem should be cut at the ground level to avoid infecting the other plants. 

Advantages
Plantains are more resistant to pests than other banana species.  
Kyeyune says gonja has a ready market. 
 
“Buyers look for you. I am surprised when I get customers from far, who have been directed here by other people. And yet, my plantation is small,” says Kyeyune.  
 
The price of a bunch ranges from sh10,000 to sh20,000 for small and medium bunches respectively. Bigger bunches cost a lot more. 

Health benefits
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 energising 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 can reap big from growing gonja

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