Kagera turns to bananas to fight malnutrition, hidden hunger

KAGERA: SITTING before a solar drier, Ms Mariam Kokusiima (36), a resident of Muleba District’s Kishanda village, can manage to make at least 200 banana cakes each day which she sells at the local market.

The income has enabled her to construct a modern house while two of her sons completed college and have joined herin the business.

“Bananas are important in fighting malnutrition, they are very rich in Vitamin A. People should be educated on how to add value to bananas,” she said.

The Region’s Assistant Regional Administrative Secretary (Economy and Productivity), Mr Isaya Tendega explained that Kagera Region has conducive weather suitable for production of various crops that are on high demand,including avocado, maize, sunflower and sugarcane.

“We should exploit suitable markets in the neighbouring countries where such crops are in high demand. The region is endowed with fertile soil and untapped valleys suitable for irrigation schemes. Kagera Region is also suitable for banana production, with capacity to increase the annual production of bananasfrom 600,000 metric tonnes to over 1 million metric tonnes,” he said.

Data indicate thatKagera Region is among regions with high rate of stunting among children aged below five years,which currently stand at 36 per cent while the national average stands at 34 per cent.

He said while some efforts have been made to reduce the rate of stunting from 41.7 per cent during 2015/16 to 36 per cent during 2022/2023, more efforts are still needed.

It is high time every person cooperates to realise the goal of malnutritionfree in Kagera Region. Without necessary action, children will remain at greater risk in the region.

Mr Tendega urged all stakeholders to join hands in fighting malnutrition and hidden hunger, noting that more efforts should be made to educate families, especially women, on the importance of breastfeeding and eating food varieties rich in micronutrients, proteins and Vitamin A, “Kagera Region has enough food varieties, including bananas, beans and fisheries resources notably from Lake Vitoria and 14 satellite lakes, therefore food availability is not a problem.

Families should be educated on the best food varieties to eat on a daily basis,” he said.

He appealed to the youth to exploit available opportunities in the agricultural sector instead of blaming the government for unemployment, assuring them that the agricultural sector offers many employment opportunities.

For many decades, Kagera Region has been identified in the minds of most Tanzanians as a banana and coffee land.

It is also identified as one of the regions favoured by early contacts with European missionaries. The others are Kilimanjaro and Mbeya regions.

The agricultural sector has consistently been dominant in the regional economy. However, several villages in Kagera region were recently attacked by a banana disease known as Xanthomonas Wilt (BXW), which has made authorities to caution farmers to take necessary precaution, including uprooting the affected banana trees.

Kagera Region shares borders with four East African Community (EAC) nations, namely Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and Kenya cross Lake Victoria.

Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (ARI) Maruku Manager, Dr Mpoki Shimwela, on the other hand, revealed that the government has allocated about 500m/- during 2023/2024 financial year for the construction of a tissue culture laboratory.

The tissue culture laboratory will cover two major crops, namely bananas and coffee, which will in turn greatly benefit farmers who will get improved culture seedlings at reduced price of between 500/- to1,000/-, compared to the current price of 2,500/- -3,000/- for each seedling, he said.

He tasked Extension Officers to utilize the conducive environment, including transport facilities provided by the government to reach farmersin their villages instead of staying in offices.

“Extension Officers play a key role in revamping the economy. The government recently provided about 342 motor cycles that cost over 1bn/- to enable Extension Officers to reach the farmers and advise them on how they can increase productivity of cash and food crops,” he said.

It is estimated that banana yields fell from ten tons per hectare to about four tons per hectare. Farmers in the affected areas started to turn to root and cereal crops as alternative staple foods.

However, efforts have been taken to multiply high yielding banana varieties with different levels of tolerance to most of the banana pests and diseases.

Among the varieties include tumbago, lai, apantu, etoo, biila and pisang. The varieties have already been supplied to the farmers for the planting season.

These varieties are tolerant to various combinations of the major banana production constraints, which are nematodes, weevils, panama disease, black sigatoka, low soil fertility and drought.

The new banana varieties are also appealing to farmers and consumers, especially in terms of bunch weight, cycling and taste of raw fruit and derived products. Banana is a staple food crop for about 2.9 million people in Kagera Region.

These farmers also generate cash income from the sale of banana bunches and derived products (especially the local banana brew) within and outside the region. Banana production has declined over the past decades due to pests, diseases and declining soil fertility.

To offset this trend, the government in collaboration with other stakeholders initiated a propagation and diffusion of superior banana varieties and show different levels of tolerance to most of the banana pests and diseases.

It is estimated that over 95 per cent of the households in the region are involved in smallscale agriculture, with banana, bean and coffee cultivation being the main agricultural activities.

The production of bananas in Tanzania hit a record of 3,407 metric tonnes in 2018/2019 season. There was minimal growth in comparison to the preceding season, when 3,396 metric tonnes of bananas were produced. Banana is part of the staple diet in Tanzania and one of the ten main food crops in the country.

In Tanzania, most of the bananas (over 70 per cent) are grown in Kagera, Kilimanjaro and Mbeya regions. Other regions producing a significant amount of bananas are Morogoro, Kigoma, Mara, Arusha, Manyara, Ruvuma, Tanga and Coast.

The global export value of the banana trade was estimated to be 8.9 billion US dollars before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, with a retail value standing between 20 billion US dollars and 25 billion US dollars annually.

And at 8.9 billion US dollars, bananas grown for export are only a fraction of the 44.1 billion US dollars in annual banana and plantain production – in fact, bananas are the fourthmost valuable global crop after rice, wheat and milk.

Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)’s data shows that nearly nine-tenths of the world’s bananas are eaten in poor countries, where at least 400 million people rely on them for 15 to 27 per cent of their daily calories.

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