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Kagera turn to bananas to fight malnutrition

SITTING before a solar drier, Mr Frederick Kitone (56) a resident of Missenyi District’s Nyabihanga village can manage to make at least 500 banana cakes each day which he sells at a local market.

The earnings from the sales has enabled him to construct a modern house. His two sons completed college and have joined him in 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,” he said. Kagera Region was among regions with high rate of stunting among children aged below five years, which currently stood at 39.8 per cent while the national average stood at 34 per cent.

Other regions with high rate of stunting in brackets include Njombe (53.6 per cent), Iringa (47.1 per cent), Rukwa (47.9 per cent), Songwe (43.3 per cent), Kigoma (42.3 per cent) and Ruvuma (41.0 per cent). While some efforts have been made to reduce the rate of stunting from 41.7 per cent during 2015/16 to 39.8 per cent during 2018/2019 more efforts were still needed.

It was high time that every person cooperate to realize the goal of malnutritionfree in Kagera Region. Without necessary actions children would have remained at greater risk in the region. Kagera Regional Administrative Secretary (RAS), Prof. Faustin Kamuzora emphasized the need for mothers to breastfeed their children to reduce the rate of malnutrition.

Equally, he 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 had enough food varieties including bananas, beans and fisheries resources from Lake Vitoria and 14 satellite lakes. Food availability is not a problem. Families should be educated on the food varieties to eat on daily basis.

Kagera Regional Nutrition Officer, Yusuf Hamis said that a recent initial baseline survey indicated that about 224,364 children aged below five years in Kagera region were stunted. Minimum acceptable diet stood at 18.1 per cent compared to the national average of 30.3 per cent.

The rate of continued breastfeeding at two years stood at 44.4 per cent while the national average was 43.3 per cent. The rate of exclusive breastfeeding stood at 85 per cent and meal frequency per day stood at 55 per cent.

Ms Jojianas Kibura, a Senior Researcher at the Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (TARI) Maruku explained that since the 1960’s banana yields started to decline due to pests especially nematodes and weevils, diseases, adverse weather conditions and deterioration in soil fertility.

She explained that efforts were being made to get funds to conduct education seminars among schools to enable children to get knowledge on how to make banana cakes that would complement meal frequencies and increase Vitamin A.

Baraka Louis, an Agricultural Officer at the regional secretariat revealed that during 2018/2019 season banana production was 2,335,547 metric tonnes, cereal crops (265,916 metric tonnes), root crops ( 1,091,882 metric tonnes) while legumes were 168,803 metric tonnes.

It is estimated that banana yields fell from ten tonnes per hectare to about four tonnes 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 will soon be 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 bananas 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 3.1 million people in Kagera Region produced by smallholders.

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 high yielding 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 small-scale agriculture, with banana, bean and coffee cultivation being the main agricultural activities.

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Author: MEDDY MULISA in Bukoba

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