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Uganda start-up bets big on banana waste

Ugandans have always eaten a lot of bananas. Now a local start-up reckons it can extract even more value from overlooked parts of the crop.

4/17/2021 6:55:00 AM

A local startup in Uganda is exploiting a little-treasured part of the banana, its natural fiber, to produce environmentally conscious items

Ugandans have always eaten a lot of bananas. Now a local start-up reckons it can extract even more value from overlooked parts of the crop.

When farmers lop off bananas from the trees, they generally leave the bulky, bulbous trunks to decompose and waste away. TexFad is extracting the fibres from parts of the trunks that farmers usually burn or throw away."When I looked around I saw that bananas grow abundantly in this country ... we generate a lot of waste from the banana gardens," said Kimani Muturi, TexFad's managing director and founder.

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TexFad is experimenting with various uses of banana fibres, producing carpets and market-testing hair extension products, Muturi said."The hair extensions we are making are highly biodegradable," he said. "After using, our ladies will go and bury them in the soil and they will become manure for their vegetables."

TexFad is also testing a process to make banana fibres as soft as cotton so they can be used to produce clothes.On a recent day at the TexFad plant in Mukono, just east of the capital Kampala, young men piled banana tree trunks in a heap before splitting them in half with machetes and feeding them into a machine.

Out came long, leathery fibres that were hung on lines to dry before being processed and used to make carpets and hair extensions.Muturi forecast TexFad will make 2,400 carpets this year, more than doubling last year's output and boosting revenues. The firm, which has 23 employees, made about $41,000 in sales last year, its best figures since launching in 2013.

The company expects to export carpets for the first time in June, to customers in the United States, Britain and Canada.Muturi reckons the light, organic material could replace some synthetic fibres and be used to make paper products like bank notes among a range of possible applications.

"Banana fibre is the fibre of the future," he said. Read more: Reuters Top News »

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