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Partnerships are vital for industrialisation of Uganda's banana sector

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Added 6th August 2020 02:08 PM

Dr Priver Namanya, the team leader for NARO's National Banana Research Program, stressed that while banana research has addressed national food security, there is much more from bananas.

Partnerships are vital for industrialisation of Uganda's banana sector

Christine Elong

Dr Priver Namanya, the team leader for NARO's National Banana Research Program, stressed that while banana research has addressed national food security, there is much more from bananas.

By Christine Elong

In the last few weeks, the media reported about the extremely low banana prices across the country that have left farmers crying with frustration, with some bunches fetching as little as sh3,000 only.

This raises the discussion on the need to industrialize the banana sector in Uganda, without which, returns on banana production to the country might never amount to much when compared to other major banana producing countries. 

Uganda's Agriculture Sector Strategic Plan (ASSP) a flagship plan for investment and development of the agricultural sector and the interventions highlighted therein, focuses on 12 priority commodities of which banana is among.

The areas for intervention under banana was to increase production and productivity of bananas through control of pests and diseases especially the Banana Bacterial Wilt (BBW) disease; generation and distribution of clean planting materials to farmers, promoting the use of organic and inorganic fertilisers and soil moisture conservation techniques, strengthening extension services, training in good agricultural practices and support to value addition through Public-Private Partnerships.

Value addition is a catalyst for the Industrialisation of agricultural products and technologies, as such, the role of partnerships with the private sector, as an engine of growth, is at the centre stage of Government's policy development, implementation and monitoring.

This is supported by various policy frameworks such as the Industrial Policy, Trade policy and the National development plan (NDP).

To effectively link research to Industry and harness synergies between key banana players, The National Agricultural Research Organization's(NARO), National Banana Research Program(NBRP) at Kawanda; the unit mandated to generate banana technologies suited to service the industrialisation agenda for the banana, has embarked on engagements with technology users and representatives of support systems to define the commercialisation direction of banana, in a coordinated manner as it contributes to economic development.

During one of such engagement held at NARO, Kawanda, between research and private players; Science and business minds merged in support of growing bananas as a business and bananas beyond food. NARO brought together representatives of financiers, incubators, regulators, researchers and technology users engaged in value addition and export.

This platform will identify feasible strategies for operationalizing the national agenda for the industrialization of bananas in Uganda. 

Dr Priver Namanya, the team leader for NARO's National Banana Research Program, stressed that while banana research has addressed national food security, there is much more from bananas.

She called on the think tank to embrace the agenda for Bananas beyond food and a strategic definition of feasible product lines, noting that, there are products can be got from all parts of the banana plant including leaves, peels, fruit, and stems, creating opportunities to earn more income without compromising the aspect of food.

The contribution of banana products to the Agro-industry in Uganda and the business case is in Bananas as raw material for beverage, textile, and energy, pharmaceutical and environmental conservation.

The investment and business opportunities for specific products depends heavily on the processing feasibility, output and commercial volumes, current and future target markets, and comparative advantage over other enterprises and countries.

Value addition of bananas can lead to the processing of Fibre into textiles, carpets & paper, Green banana resistant starch for management of non-communicable diseases (Diabetes, heart disease & colon cancer) and Ethanol for industrial use.

Most of the bananas produced in Uganda are consumed at home with very little exported.

The idea is to increase the value of bananas on the domestic and international market.

"Current value of bananas consumed at home is at USD 1billion while the current international market value of banana and related industrial products is at USD 100 Billion, if Uganda positioned to target at least 5% of the total current international market value, then banana and banana products would contribute USD 5billion annually to the country's GDP, " says Dr Jerome Kubiriba -Senior research Officer with NBRP.

This can only be through farmers working together, the idea of working in silos will not advance the cause for industrialisation of the banana industry to meaningful impact.

 NARO's Banana research team has supported the formation of the Uganda Banana Cooperative Union, a voice that brings together cooperative societies engaged in production, marketing and value addition.

It has become a bargain powerhouse today and has registered tremendous success for banana farmers in Uganda. 

The formation of a think tank is, therefore, a vital step towards coordinated prioritisation and strategic guidance to the banana industrialization agenda that fits into the existing industrial policy for Agriculture.

The think tank will leverage on the governments' enabling environment to support strengthening and deepening public-private-partnerships to ensure a leading role for the private sector in the country's industrial transformation and economic development.  

Dr Jerome further says, "Under the guidance of the think tank, NARO is going to prioritise product lines, based on market feasibility studies and bankable business cases that the private players will implement."

Widening the utilization base of Banana products will be pivotal in addressing price problems that farmers are grappling with, the gravity of which has been accelerated during this COVID 19 period.

Industrialization of the sector is a timely incentive for banana production beyond food, which should, in the long term, salvage the issue of low prices, short shelf life and wastage.

This, the national banana research program believes is the best way forward.

Development Communications Officer,
National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO),
National Agricultural Research Laboratories (NARL), Kawanda.

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