With the exit of plastic bags, some farmers in Kirinyaga are already cashing in on banana fibres to make bags.
In the recent past, banana fibre was only used to make items like ropes, mats and other composite materials. While it has been used since early 13th century in Japan, only Uganda and Rwanda had adopted the banana fibre extraction technology and its value addition.
In Kirinyaga, Patrick Gatere’s Integrated Community Organization for Sustainable Empowerment and Education for Development (ICOSEED) is turning banana pseudo stems into fibre that can be used to make fabrics for bags and table mats.
For years, the farmers in Kutus discarded the banana tree after cutting off the fruit and usually fed it to cattle – or simply leave it to rot. ICOSEED is now buying the banana stems from farmers, processing it into balls of fibre and drying it. Farmers are paid for the fibre extracted from their banana pseudo stems at Sh25 per Kilogram. In a simple process, the fibre is handed over to youth for brushing and finally to women for twining and dying. The coloured threads are then passed on to hand loom operators who make fabric. This fabric is used to make bags, clutch purse, table mats and wall hangings.
This has created income along the value chain by employing 100 people in transportation and extraction of fibres, twining and colouring, and accessory making. In addition, the initiative has strengthened the banana farmer groups with trainings in agronomy, increasing yields by 18 per cent hence providing an alternative source of income for 400 farmers who benefit from the program every year.
The innovation has reduced carbon emissions by promoting the use of slurry for biogas digesters and manure, decreased the need for pesticides on farms by removing banana stem that serve as a breeding zone for diseases.
ICOSEED thus contributes to the following Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs): decent work and economic growth, industry and innovation, and life on land.
The target market include exhibitions, word of mouth, online shopping, curio shops, tourist hotels, churches and super markets.
National Environment Trust Fund (NETFUND) has supported the initiative financially to the tune of Sh812,500 as well as technical and business support skills. This initiative has enabled ICOSEED to purchase 3 more extractors and 4 more handlooms to increase production capacity and produce quality products. ICOSEED emerged as Switch Africa Green (SAG) SEED challenge Award winner 2017 courtesy of NETFUND and winner of Green Innovation Awards in the Civil Societies category in 2016.
ICOSEED plans to Increase the number of farmers supplying banana stems from 400 to 9,000 by 2018, Scale up the production capacity of banana fibre by buying new machinery, including additional mobile fibre extractors, diversify the product range to include sanitary towels within the next two years and establish two new production sites in key banana growing areas; Meru and Kisii, by 2022. (NETFUND)