Nairobi — Uganda and India leading producers of bananas in the world have joined hands to conduct research into the textile potential of the banana fibre, a part of the banana tree mostly considered waste material.
The research programme will explore opportunities for value added textile products from banana fibre including curtains, window blinds, table cloths, table mats, bags, ropes and garments.
"The research will enhance the profitability of farmers and contribute to the country's foreign exchange earnings as some of these items can be sold at international markets," Busitema University vice chancellor Prof Mary Okwakol said.
"Banana fibre products have wide export potential since they are eco-friendly," she added.
The university's banana research and development programme will establish the mechanical properties of banana fibres, develop different methods of banana fibre extraction and design technologies for value addition.
Busitema University will work with the DKTE Textile and Engineering Institute of India, which will build capacity through training Busitema staff.
The research project will set up a pilot production facility for the extraction and processing of banana fibre into textiles, and build capacity of women banana farmers to add value to the fibres at household level.
Already value has been added to the banana fruit by making it into banana flour, but nutritionally vitamin A and iron micronutrients have been added to fight malnutrition.
A staple crop in much of Uganda, banana is grown by between 50 and 70 per cent of the farmers in the country.
It is consumed locally, making the country the world's highest per capita banana consumer at 250 kilogrammes per person in a year and among the top producer of bananas in the world.
Currently, only a small quantity of the banana fibre, which is harvested by pulling or cutting from the stem, is being used in the making of handicraft items like baskets, mats, table mats, decorations and as cooking fuel.
The banana crop occupies about 67 per cent of all cropped land in Uganda, mostly grown by women.
Records from the Uganda Bureau of Statistics shows a steady decline in production from about 8 million metric tonnes in 1995 to 5.5 and 4 million metric tonnes in 2000 and 2007 respectively.
Besides alleviating poverty, the new programme will also add to the number of academic options for science students and researchers in Uganda as a post-graduate (masters) degree in textile technology will be established at Busitema University.
"The project will also enrich the teaching of textile engineering at the university," Faculty of Engineering dean Dr Samuel Baker Kucel said.
In 2008, Busitema University, won a Uganda Millennium Science Initiative competitive grant of $1.25 million for starting a bachelor of science in textile engineering programme.
The Millennium Science Initiative supports collaborative research between industry and academia as well as promotion of the development of world-class scientific talent in developing nations.
The course kicked off in 2009 with enrolment of 20 pioneer students who will now have a chance to participate in the banana fibre textile research.
Prof Chandrakant Kane from DKTE Textile and Engineering Institute challenged Busitema University to consider similar work on silk, sisal, wool and pineapple fibres.
Busitema University plans to establish a centre for garment making technology for women.