Making the Most of a Staple Crop

For more than 30 years, Specioza Kakweezi has grown the plantain-like banana known as matooke on her one-acre farm in the hills of southwestern Uganda. Specioza, a widow, once grew matooke simply to feed her family. Today, she has turned her farm into a profitable business – and a ticket to a better future.

Specioza was able to make this transformation with help from TechnoServe, which began working to promote a more efficient and competitive Ugandan matooke industry in 2005. With funding from the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa and the Rockefeller Foundation, TechnoServe helped more than 26,000 farming families improve the quality and quantity of their bananas and connect to higher-paying markets.

Matooke is a staple of the Ugandan diet, but many farmers earn little to no income from their crop. Specioza once struggled to sell her bananas at the market after feeding her family.

“Before TechnoServe, the quality of matooke that I had was very poor,” Specioza said. “The matooke I did grow I could not sell.”

In 2008, TechnoServe began reaching out to farmers in Specioza’s community. She attended meetings that introduced her to the benefits of joining a producer business group, where small-scale farmers band together to sell their crops collectively, improving their bargaining power. By May, Specioza had joined the Bitooma Matooke Group.

Through the business group, Specioza attended seminars that showed her how to increase her productivity and improve the quality of her matooke. TechnoServe advisors trained Specioza and other farmers in best practices, including spacing the trees properly, applying the right inputs and selecting the most marketable varieties for planting. We worked to strengthen business skills and market connections for farmer groups across southwestern Uganda. And TechnoServe helped some farmers diversify into dairy in order to boost their incomes.

The program helped change lives on a wide scale. TechnoServe worked with more than 26,000 farmers who sold nearly $22 million worth of matooke – more than three times the original goal. These farmers accessed nearly $2.5 million in credit to help expand their plantations. More than 3,600 farmers now regularly sell milk to chilling plants for nearly $3.3 million in sales.

For Specioza, the new knowledge and market access have made a noticeable impact in her life. When she sold her bananas on her own, she earned $1.80 per bunch. Selling in bulk through her business group, Specioza earns $3 per bunch. She harvests her bananas every two weeks and sells about 40 bunches each month.

With savings from her higher income, Specioza was able to build a new home out of brick and cement, replacing her unstable mud-and-wood house. Her children are grown, but she raises four grandchildren. Specioza is better able to afford their school fees and supplies. She can provide them with more wholesome meals of beans, matooke, rice and bread. Specioza is proud of the improvements she has been able to make for her family.

“Everything changed when I got the training,” Specioza said. “Now I know how to earn money from my matooke.”