By Francesco Rispoli, IFAD
IFAD is an international financial institution and a specialized United Nations agency based in Rome – the UN’s food and agriculture hub, working closely with the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) for agro-investment initiatives worldwide.
In Tanzania IFAD has supported 16 projects and programmes in the country for a total amount of US$430.1 million, benefiting almost 4 million poor rural households.
This year, with the slogan “Our actions are Our Future: Healthy Diets for a Zero Hunger World,” marking the World Food Day calls for action to make healthy and sustainable diets available and affordable to all.
This theme is being interpreted locally around the world to relate to initiatives of that sort, for instance in the promotion of sustainable and healthy food habits, where a case at hand if the surprising taste of ‘Bokoboko’ banana flour a word at times used for one of the numerous preparations of rice on the coastal
strip in Tanzania. This specific case has been highlighted by the Mola Tupe (God give us) Cooperative in Pemba island. It is a group of 20 smallholder banana farmers on the island, where 12 women and eight men came together as a group in 2011 through a Farmer Field School (FFS) promoted by the ASSP/ ASDP-L IFAD-funded programme. These are sector-based programs to uplift performance where IFAD joins hands with the government to enhance crop productivity and marketing.
Thanks to the FFS approach, the farmers improved their productivity, but still had difficulties with marketing their produce, mainly due to the low price for fresh banana offered on the local market. This is why after ASSP closure the group was targeted by the other IFAD-supported Marketing Infrastructure Value Addition and Rural Finance support programme (MIVARF) to strengthen their marketing and value addition skills.
The group was assigned a ‘business coach,’ who provided training on record keeping, group governance, product quality, branding, packaging, pricing and marketing. A true eye opener happened when Mola Tupe members were taken in an exchange visit to Bukoba on the Mainland, and learnt how to produce banana flour and then make cookies, porridge and soup from it.
What was most surprising to the group was that banana flour and the products derived from it could be best made out of Bokoboko, the banana variety that has the lowest fresh market price (TZS 3,000 against 10-15,000 for other varieties) because eaten fresh it does not taste very good.
Bokoboko is only kept by smallholder farmers for food security purposes because of its high resistance to drought. In 2017, Mola Tupe group, which meanwhile had registered as a cooperative, started producing banana flour, cookies and chips, with an estimated margin of 40 per cent and 30 per cent for cookies and chips respectively.
Soon afterwards, their collective monthly contributions to their group savings and credit cooperative (SACCOS) increased from TZS 100,000 (43 USD) to TZS 250,000 (109 USD), and they could then take loans from the SACCOS, mostly used to expand banana fields and pay school needs for their children. “We only make banana chips when the price is low for fresh bananas,” says one of the women while explaining the group’s business model. “People like the banana flour more and more”, she added, “though they don’t believe it’s from Bokoboko!”