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One Misty Morning in Njabini, Kenya
Marlene taking photographs at the Olorgesailie Prehistoric Site



Woman clearing debris off matoke plant

A woman tends to her matooke farm
in Mbarara, west Uganda.  
Words and photos by Marlene C. Francia

In Uganda, banana is everything.

It is the staple crop. It is the staple food.

Ugandans eat it for breakfast, eat it for lunch, eat it for dinner. Ugandans even make beer out of bananas.

The Ugandan native word for banana is "matooke". It's no coincidence that the same word also means "food".

Ten million metric tons of bananas are grown here every year, making Uganda the world's second largest banana producer.

All photos © Marlene C. Francia
Marlene C. Francia is a visual anthropologist, a documentary filmmaker, and a multi-media creative communications specialist.
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Woman tending matoke plantation

A well-managed one-hectare farm can earn up to US$1,500 dollars a year. Most cooking bananas are grown by small-scale farmers either for their own consumption or for selling to the local markets.


The plantain is a type of cooking banana known as matooke in Uganda. It is the staple crop as well as the staple food of this East African landlocked nation. A plantain bunch like the one above can have as many as 15 "hands" or rows with each hand having around 20 "fingers" or bananas.

Matoke mountain
Matoke bunch
Man with matoke-laden bicycle

Around 1.5 million hectares or 38% of Uganda's total arable land is planted to matooke. Uganda's tropical climate with average temperatures of 20 to 30º C all year round makes it perfect for growing these bananas.

Because bananas and plantains bear fruit all year round, these are an extremely valuable food source during the hunger season when food from one yearly or twice yearly harvest has already been consumed while waiting for the next harvest. Bananas and plantains are therefore critical to global food security.

Matoke bikers
Matoke bikers on the move

Bicycles play an important role in transporting Uganda's staple food crop. Owning or having access to a sturdy bicycle capable of negotiating farm to market roads while carrying up to as much as 150 kilos of bananas is important. Above, a man struggles to balance his heavily-laden bicycle up an incline on the road.

That means each person consumes about 3 to 11 bananas in a day - Ugandans have the highest consumption in the world. Matooke is eaten at every meal. Oftentimes, matooke is the meal itself.

Day in and day out, on bicycles and on trucks, to small village roadside markets to the big bustling city markets, bunches of matooke make their way across Uganda.

Banana xanthomonas wilt

In 2001, a banana wilting disease was discovered for the first time in central Uganda. Called banana xanthomonas wilt, it destroys the banana fruit bunches, threatening the livelihood of millions of people who depend on banana plantain as a source of food and income. The disease spreads rapidly, resulting in total production loss.

Matooke: Feeding Uganda

words and photos by
Marlene C. Francia
October 2011

 Along with the neighboring countries of Rwanda and Burundi, each person in Uganda eats about 250 to 400 kilos (550 to 880 pounds) of matooke each year.

While Uganda is the second largest producer of bananas in the world, it is however, one of the smallest exporters. Most of the plantain harvest is consumed locally.

Total market
Roadside Market
Lone Matoke biker
Man struggling with heavy banana-laden bike