Why are we not marketing and exporting Luffa sponges already?

A random Google search of the phrase “Luffa sponge” came up with over 633,000 results! The results including how to grow your loofah sponge (there seems to be no agreement on the spelling), how luffa sponges are made, and harvesting to make a luffa sponge.

Some are YouTube videos so you can see exactly what is being talked about here. Ok I have a confession to make, I had no idea what a luffa sponge really was until last week when @thisisinsider tweeted, “Luffa sponges can be used for bathing.”

We really learn something new every day even when that new knowledge is not entirely new. From this I learnt that the thing I have used for bathing all my life is actually called a Luffa sponge. I knew it simply as a sponge and I know it is used for bathing.

So imagine my shock on ‘learning’ from Twitter that it can actually be used for bathing. The tweet came with a video that did explain some other interesting things. Like the fact where luffa sponges actually come from!

If I was born recently I would have sworn that they just grow in traffic jam just like the children who think some things just come from the fridge, you know like edible chicken. After all if you are stuck in traffic in some countries, you will see hawkers selling lots of them very cheaply.

In the video a couple shows off their garden in Reedly California where they grow these sponges. It is a big farm where they even use tractors to move around. Back here, I used to see these sponges just growing almost wildly or on fences never seen them grown on a large scale.

From the video I learnt that a luffa sponge can be used for bathing, exfoliating, washing dishes, cleaning around the house and scrubbing your pet. I have grown up using them for bathing, cleaning shoes and sometimes removing stains from clothes.

The bit about exfoliating would happen even without me knowing especially when the sponge is new and rough on the skin if not soaked in water first.

Turns out most people in the United States don’t know what a luffa sponge is and are used to bathing with the synthetic nylon puff. And yet luffa sponges were popular in the US until around World War II.

They used to be imported from Japan well until Pearl Harbour happened in 1941 and they started using the synthetic stuff. The tweet by this American site garnered over 2000 retweets. However the real story was in the replies.

Most of the replies were from Africans who were shocked that Americans were just ‘discovering’ what a luffa sponge can be used for. It evoked that same colonial feeling of how years back some adventurous Caucasians showed up and discovered the same mountains, lakes and rivers that our ancestors knew about for eons. So there were jokes that if these Americans knew how easy it is to get these sponges here they might invade countries for it.

It is a pity that an American in California is growing them on a large scale and selling them when we could have just done the same ages back and exported to them in return for some much needed foreign exchange. Many of our five star hotels will not even put these sponges in their bathrooms in an effort to keep everything exotic. There is one where I found the sponges and I was actually very impressed. We need to learn to market our things more when we have the chance.

Interestingly the same twitter account tweeted about a month ago about how it is possible to eat animal intestines (offals). Yes, it is another new ‘discovery’ and yet my people in Uganda have been eating these for years as part of katogo and other meals. In Kenya they use them to make ‘blood sausages’ best known as mutura. And I don’t think there is a better snack that Zingaro when one is in a Rwandan pub.

Again if Americans are just learning about foods we have eaten for years then we need to get back to the drawing table and talk about how we can market and possibly even export some of these things to them and to the rest of the world. I think the whole Made in Rwanda campaign and other similar efforts in the region need to look into the need for us embrace and market our local solutions to the rest of the world before someone in US tweets about them.

Email: ssenyonga@gmail.com

Blog: www.ssenyonga.wordpress.com

Twitter: @ssojo81

The views expressed in this article are of the author.

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