BY Paul Ndiho, Isingiro, Uganda

Bananas are widely grown in Uganda as a staple food to generate income for farmers. In Western Uganda, approximately 300 Kilometers from Kampala, near the Ugandan – Tanzanian border, a retired Central Bank executive is cashing in on commercial Banana farming or commonly known as (Matooke).

Ugandans have been eating Bananas (Matooke) for many years. In fact, more than 10million people eat bananas as their main food source in Uganda and many more feed on it across the region. Commercial Banana Farming

In the Insigiro district of Western Uganda, a retired Central Bank executive, Engineer Johnson Mubangizi, owner of several arches of banana plantations, is making a lot of money by growing bananas for commercial export. Mr. Mubangizi harvests about 70 – 100 bunches of bananas for sale that brings in about three thousand dollars a month.  For a retired bank executive, three thousand dollars might not be a lot of money, but for ordinary people, it’s most certainly a lot of money — And very few professional make that much money in a month.

“Farming is very fantastic thing. In the first instance, you are assured of food which is a basic survival right. You are sure that your people will have food. Secondly, farming beyond subsistence is a good thing because you produce more food for export. For export outside of you area — so we get people coming here to buy Matooke to take it to Kampala, we also sale some in Mbarara and of recent my product was going directly to Juba, South Sudan.”

Mr. Mubangizi’s fascination with banana farming started when he was still a young man and he credits his parents for giving him those skills. It’s common practice in this part of the country for people to have vested interests in farming, because agriculture is still the backbone of the economy. For Mubangizi, this tradition has been passed on from generation to generation.

“This banana plantation is about six arches and it has its own historic attachment. It’s older than me, I was born in 1955 and it was already here. It belonged to my grandfather, who lived here in the 30s. So he had this plantation during the Second World War.  Then when he died in 1947, he left it with my father and when he died in 1987, he left it with me. Now you can see where we have come from – maybe I could say probably in 80 -90 years. But still, when people look at this plantation, it’s like as if it was planted a few months ago”.

After retirement, Mubangizi revamped and renovated his entire plantation, assuring himself of excellent income every month. However, scientist and banana farmers alike are worried about a new type of bacteria called “banana wilt” which infects the plant and contaminates soil, resulting in huge losses and it’s threatening to wipe out all the plantations in the region.

 “We have been attached by bacterial wilt and actually each family has had a little share of it. But what we have done – as a measure is to up root whichever you find sick, you uproot the whole thing. We started by burying them but then we discovered that burying them was not the best solution. So you chop into small pieces put them in a place and they dry there.”

Ugandan government Scientists at the Kawanda research station in Kampala, Uganda are inching closer to finding improved varieties of genetically modified bananas that are resistant to the bacteria.

Dr. Geoffrey Arinaitwe, a lead researcher at Uganda’s banana research program says the bananas will not only increase output but also make the crop more affordable.

“We put pro vitamin A in Banana, it is done in a public research institute, once we have these bananas produced, they are basically for free, you give these bananas to farmers, they grow them over and over again, continuously eating these bananas and reducing the risk of Vitamin A deficiency, it’s the cheapest approach, it is cheaper than buying these capsules of bio fortified foods.”

Africa’s agricultural sector is set to become a 1 trillion US dollar industry by 2030 if governments and the private sector radically rethink policies and support for farmers, according to the World Bank.

The continent’s food market, currently valued at 313 billion US dollars a year, could triple if farmers modernized their practices and had better access to credit, new technology, irrigation and fertilizers.

Governments must now adopt new policies to enable farmers expand agriculture across the continent and take advantage of the increase in global demand for food as well as fetch higher prices for their produce.