How banana waste upcycling is kick-starting Uganda’s circular economy

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum./

Author: Abir Ibrahim, Community Lead, Regional Agenda, Africa, World Economic Forum

  • Uganda is the world’s second largest producer and consumer of bananas.
  • The fruit contributes to major post-harvest and processing waste, with tons of banana waste ending up in landfill.
  • However, banana waste is now becoming a vital economic and environmental opportunity in Uganda, which is developing new industries and technologies for banana waste upcycling.

Uganda is the world’s second-largest producer and consumer of bananas; India is the first. With a global production value of about 10 million metric tons and banana consumption of almost one kilogram per person, per day, more than 75% of Uganda’s population relies on bananas as a staple food. The ripe fruit is cooked in savoury dishes and consumed as a dessert and made into wine, juice, beer, dehydrated snacks and more.

Bananas are a good source of essential nutrients, including vitamin B6, potassium and dietary fibre, and they are used to formulate ready-to-use therapeutic foods to combat malnutrition. The fruit contributes, however, to major post-harvest and processing waste, with tons ending up in landfill. Every harvest season, banana stems are discarded, posing environmental issues for banana farmers, collection centres and trading sites.

Masses of banana waste upcycling ideas

Now, this massive banana waste issue is becoming a vital economic opportunity in Uganda, which is developing new industries and technologies to transform banana stems into fibre for sustainable textile and handicrafts products. Banana fibres had traditionally been extracted using manual processes, which involve scrapping the banana sheath until the fibres are unearthed. This banana waste upcycling process is labour-intensive and not viable for commercial production. To improve this process, Ugandan smallholder banana farmers partnered with the local non-formal engineering sector to develop an extractor machine to facilitate easier banana fibre processing.

Community-based start-ups, such as TEXFAD, work with smallholder banana farmers who supply banana stems to the company. The banana farmers are beginning to appreciate the new value of the would-be waste banana stems, enjoying increased incomes from their banana waste upcycling and producing over 30,000 square feet of rugs each year.

“In addition to banana fibre carpets, local artisans are testing ways of turning banana fibre into biodegradable hair extensions and cotton-like textiles ideal for apparel and the fashion industry,” explains TEXFAD founder Muturi Kumani. “Banana fibre is also being developed into vegan leather — offering sustainable leather for shoes, belts, wallets and bags, etc. While by-products of banana fibre production are carbonised and turned into charcoal briquettes, which are smoke-free and offer four to six hours of clean energy.”

Banana waste upcycling boosts employment

Nearly 77% of Uganda’s population is under 25, yet the country has one of the highest youth unemployment rates in Africa. The banana fibre industry supports job creation among young people in Uganda through vocational training, skills development and business incubation, accelerating employment across the country.

Young people who have benefitted from the TEXFAD skills training programmes are now supporting the local tourism industry with innovative hand-crafted products. The organization has now trained over 400 youth and retained 27 youth who work at TEXFAD. The company is youth-led at the management and departmental levels and is focused on skills training for self-reliance. TEXFAD has been pioneering skills training and business incubation in banana fibre extraction and the production of various products and has conducted skills training in several African countries, including Uganda, Mauritius, Nigeria and Kenya.


What is the World Economic Forum doing about the circular economy?

The World Economic Forum Centre for Nature and Climate is actively promoting the transition to a circular economy through various initiatives. The objective is to create a more sustainable and resilient economic system by reducing waste and maximizing resource efficiency.

  • The Circular Transformation of Industries initiative engages leaders from industry, government, academia, and civil society to drive circularity across sectors and economies. It consolidates information from previous efforts, shares best practices and creates new partnerships.
    Learn more about Unlocking New Value in a Resource-Constrained World.
  • The Circular Cars Initiative aims to create a climate-friendly automobility system by minimizing lifecycle emissions, particularly in manufacturing. Its goal is the development of a convenient, affordable, 1.5°C-aligned system by 2030.
    Discover the benefits of circular economy in the car industry here.
  • The Global Plastic Action Partnership (GPAP) brings together global stakeholders to promote the transition to a circular plastics economy. GPAP provides a platform for global learning and local action in nine countries coordinating efforts and maximizing impact.
    Learn more in our Impact Report.

Circular economies position for prosperity

In January 2023, the World Economic Forum published a circular transformation white paper in collaboration with Bain & Company, the University of Cambridge and INSEAD. Insights from the paper reveal that organizations that embark on circular transformation, creating more adaptable operating and business models, are better positioned to prosper, even in times of disruption, while contributing to sustainable growth.

A circular transformation is already taking hold in Uganda. The future aspiration of the country’s banana fibre industry is to upscale the production of eco-friendly products by mechanising part of the production processes, while maintaining over 60% of manual processes. Targeting mass production of banana fibre products has a great impact on society and observes sustainable consumption and production best practices. Uganda envisions being a centre of excellence in producing eco-friendly sustainable products in Africa, while embracing a circular economy approach.

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