Leonard Macumu, a researcher at the Institut Catholique de Kabgayi (ICK) is spearheading a pioneering project that strengthens the banana plantation value chain. By harnessing the capabilities of banana stems and buds, the scientist and his team who operate at ICK’s incubation centre are turning the tropical fruit into natural banana beer, edible vegetables, and even sustainable paper products. Speaking to The New Times during the Higher Education Council (HEC)’s exhibition of innovative projects developed by university students on May 10, Macumu revealed that with their innovative approach, the team embarked on research to explore the vast possibilities hidden within banana plantations. ALSO READ: Tracing the origins and role of bananas in the Rwandan culture Their journey began with a ‘simple’ realisation that “every part of the banana plant holds tremendous potential waiting to be unlocked.” As they delved into the banana plantation in Muhanga District, their research took them on a transformative path, unveiling the value that could be derived from seemingly ordinary components. Macumu mentioned that ‘Iyukunda’, the banana beer they produce, is entirely natural, as they only use sorghum as an additional ingredient. Moreover, their banana stems are utilised to create materials such as envelopes, boxes, and other paper products. As part of their project, they have developed a machine to aid in banana beer production, and another to transform banana pseudo-stems into paper. Regarding the unique nature of their banana beer, Macumu explained that it is completely natural given that they refrain from adding any chemical products, including water, and prioritise meticulous hygiene during the brewing process. “We store the beer naturally without relying on any chemical preservatives, ensuring its longevity without compromising quality,” he explained. One of the challenges they encountered was finding suitable packaging for their products. However, Macumu said they have successfully resolved this issue and are now ready to bring their products to the market. Regarding the envelopes made from banana stems, Macumu said they are exploring business opportunities to monetize this aspect. He highlighted that their eco-friendly products contribute to addressing some of the challenges faced by the people of Rwanda, particularly in terms of packaging and environmental conservation. Macumu further explained that they are also planning to find ways to utilise banana peels not only as food for livestock, but also as a source of nutrition for other animals. ALSO READ: Kayonza: Adding value to banana fibers elevates women from poverty “We are experimenting with different ingredients to enhance the storage and usability of banana peels in this context,” he said. Macumu emphasised that they have also started providing education to the community surrounding Cyeza sector, Muhanga District, on ways to generate income from their plantations. “We teach individuals how to cultivate bananas and utilise various parts of the plant, particularly the edible but often discarded banana buds. By using water, salt, lemon, or vinegar, we demonstrate how to prepare these buds as vegetables,” he said. Following their research and product development, Macumu and his team plan to introduce their offerings to the market. The project actively involves ICK students from the research stage to the implementation stage. Macumu noted that they participate through the ICK’s incubation centre, where they have the opportunity to interact with one another and acquire diverse skills.