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Ugandan start-ups are leading the charge in upcycling banana waste into innovative products, transforming the nation’s circular economy. With 11 million tonnes of bananas produced annually, companies like TexFad, Nsenene, and Green Heat are unlocking the potential of the 70% waste banana production produces. TexFad creates banana fibre products such as carpets and hair extensions, while Nsenene focuses on biodegradable packaging made from banana leaves. Green Heat converts the waste into cooking fuel briquettes, reducing deforestation.

Boosting Uganda’s circular economy

Uganda, the world’s second-largest producer and consumer of bananas, is turning massive banana waste into economic opportunities. By developing industries and technologies to transform banana stems into fibre for sustainable textile and handicraft products, the country is taking a significant step towards a circular economy. Local engineering sectors have partnered with smallholder banana farmers to develop an extractor machine for easier banana fibre processing. Community-based start-ups like TexFad collaborate with farmers to supply banana stems for product manufacturing.

From banana waste to sustainable products

Banana fibre offers a wide range of economic and ecological advantages. In addition to creating banana fibre carpets, local artisans are experimenting with turning the fibre into biodegradable hair extensions and cotton-like textiles suitable for apparel and the fashion industry. The fibre is also being developed into vegan leather, while by-products are carbonised into charcoal briquettes for clean energy. These innovations not only contribute to a greener economy but also support job creation among Uganda’s youth through vocational training, skills development, and business incubation.

Skills training programmes and global impact

TexFad‘s skills training programmes benefit the local tourism industry by providing hand-crafted products, training over 400 youth and retaining 27 youth workers. The company focuses on skills training for self-reliance, pioneering skills training and business incubation in banana fibre extraction and product production across Africa, including Uganda, Mauritius, Nigeria, and Kenya. According to the World Economic Forum’s circular transformation white paper, organisations with adaptable operating and business models are better positioned to prosper while contributing to sustainable growth.

Uganda’s economic growth and aspirations

Uganda’s economy grew by 6.8% in the first six months of the 2022/23 fiscal year, up from 3.7% in the same period of the previous fiscal year. Growth was driven by services, agriculture, forestry, and fishing sectors, and the country is on track for a 5.3% growth rate for the entire fiscal year. Uganda aims to upscale the production of eco-friendly products by mechanising part of the production process while maintaining over 60% of manual processes. By focusing on mass production of banana fibre products with societal impact and sustainable consumption and production best practices, Uganda envisions becoming a centre of excellence in producing eco-friendly sustainable products in Africa.

The global market for banana-based products

Uganda is not the only country where upcycling waste streams takes hold. Banana-based products like ‘Banofi’ banana leather, developed by Kolkata-based Atma Leather, are making waves in the global market. By upcycling banana crop waste and transforming it into fibres, companies like Atma Leather are providing a premium plant-based material that consumes 90% less water and produces 90% less CO2 compared to animal leather. Fruit waste is increasingly being transformed into vegan leather for the fashion industry, contributing to cruelty-free, sustainable materials and reducing waste and pollution.

By recognising the value of waste streams, Uganda is not only transforming its own economy but inspiring other nations to follow suit, harnessing the potential of upcycling agricultural waste to create sustainable products and job opportunities.