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Banana farmers urged to shift focus

MOMBASA October 13 – Banana farmers in Africa have been urged to take advantage of the unexploited local and regional opportunities to expand their production and boost their incomes.

An international meeting of banana experts that closed in Mombasa on Friday observed that with the diminished access to European markets threatening to cost African farmers millions of shillings in lost exports, the farmers need to look for opportunities within the continent.

“Instead of depending solely on exports to Europe, African countries have an opportunity to adopt more liberalised policies that could increase cross-border trade between banana producing and consuming countries,” the conference heard.

Sub-Saharan Africa produces 30 million tonnes of bananas, which accounts for 35 percent of the global banana production. Uganda alone produces 10 million tonnes of banana annually, with an estimated value of $1.7 billion, making it the world’s second largest banana producer after India.

The participants said that the continent needs to also take advantage of value addition through processing for products such as banana chips, beer and fried snacks.

“Africa should also develop marketing strategies that will facilitate the consumption of these products,” they added.

Some countries like Kenya were lauded for putting in place measures such as organising growers groups and adopting product standards that allowed them to sell directly to wholesalers; efforts which saw their incomes double.

The meeting however decried the insufficient credit, inadequate transportation, unfair taxes and inconsistent prices that significantly stifle what could be a vibrant and profitable regional banana trade.

In Uganda alone, there are more than 200 processed banana products, yet limited investment in facilities and transportation has left them largely unavailable beyond local markets. That means farmers depend almost entirely on sales of fresh, perishable fruit for income. 

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“The processed food market is quite small and tends to be focused on middle income consumers who can afford to buy packaged foods from grocery stores, street vendors and kiosks in urban areas,” explained one of the participants.

This therefore called for the farmers to be innovative and develop products like flour or other food ingredients that could be stored for longer periods, particularly during times of seasonal glut, when prices are low.

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