THE BANANA DOES FOR UGANDA WHAT THE POTATO DID FOR IRELAND – 1st wk in De

Discussing the design and functions of the organic garden with Minister for Agriculture Mr. Tress Bucyanayandi MP, the Governor of the Masaka region in white robes, and  CEDF Founder and Consul, Ms Sylvia Katete Gavigan.

Discussing the design and functions of the organic garden with Minister for Agriculture Mr. Tress Bucyanayandi MP, the Governor of the Masaka region in white robes, and CEDF Founder and Consul, Ms Sylvia Katete Gavigan.

A 'matooke' (banana)seller in Masaka, the 10th largest city in Uganda, with his laden down bike.

A ‘matooke’ (banana)seller in Masaka, the 10th largest city in Uganda, with his laden down bike.

Ireland and Uganda on the face of it appear very different. Over 90% of the population having no running water or electricity is one major contrast, for instance. However we were both British colonies, so the Queen’s English gives us a lingua franca, so to speak. Although Ugandans also enjoy growing and eating potatoes (called there ‘the Irish potato’ to differentiate from the sweet potato), their favourite staple is banana, or matooke.

I saw bananas (mostly green) wherever I travelled in Uganda. 11 million tons are grown annually, mostly for domestic consumption. The average Ugandan eats 400 kg of banana a year. You see it for sale on the side of the road in every town and village. It is served looking to me like a large plate of creamy mashed potato. Also, ‘waragi‘ is a popular alcoholic beverage made from distilled bananas. I have yet to sample ‘waragi‘, but ‘matooke‘ was very acceptable. However, give me a feed of spuds with butter, salt and pepper any day!

Nonetheless, the banana food culture is amazing with over 100 varieties of banana in Uganda alone. The first two banana species arrived before the 6th century AD, via Swahili trade routes from the Orient. One species (Musa accuminata) originated in Malaysia and the other (Musa balbisiana) originated in India. Interbreeding of these banana species has resulted in the plethora of varieties today.

In the same way that Ireland’s population grew rapidly while depending on the potato in the 18th and 19th century, the 20th century has seen Uganda’s population grow phenomenally. The population has grown from 4.8 million in 1950 to about 35 million today. The median age is 15 years and the average birth rate is just under 7 children per woman. High infant mortality from malaria and a serious HIV problem seem to drive the high birth rates also. However who is going to deny the banana – or indeed the potato – are in their own ways, an aphrodisiac?

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Matooke was always the better option in Uganda. In times of drought or lack of money, people have to go for Posho (cornflour I think). The equivalent of a great steak dinner in Uganda is Matooke and chicken. I have to say, I always opted for the “Irish” potatoes!

    as a single food source, matooke is a little bit lacking. The people I knew used to supplement it with greens, mostly leaves picked from the wild. Many people who became a bit more affluent, and so ate more matooke and less other things, ended up with some health problems, not least weight gain (seen as desirable in some cultures) but also ending up with bowel problems.

    Waragi is available as an official standardised product, or a bootleg product from the bush. Neither are very pleasant, and particularly in dehydrating equatorial conditions, expect a headache, Then again, Wrackler (or whatever the legal poteen was called) was never that tasty, and as for the illegal stuff…..

    Oisín
    (Uganda resident 1999-2001)

    Reply

  2. Trevor, Well done on all the work in Uganda and the Support to LCDI/ CEDF!!!!!
    It looked like a full month the locals are still waiting for our return to Masaka, hopefully you will make it for 2013 to develop more Gardens to support food security in Uganda!!!

    Sylvia

    Reply

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