Some way out of town we stop for a picture of the plantains being sold along side the road. There are 7-8 different species of banana here in Uganda, the most common being the plantain-like vegetable called matoke. Plantains are more starchy than sweet and must be cooked before being eaten. They are a staple crop in much of Africa, and are served boiled, steamed, baked, or fried. Robert explained that Uganda also have another plantain called njamonja, the very sweet ggonja, red bananas, finger bananas called ndzi, the large yellow mbite and the big boyoya. Bananas are grown by small-scale farmers who rely on their 'backyard' banana plots to sustain them through times of hardship, when coffee or cocoa prices fall or when annual crops such as beans or maize fail. Ecologically speaking, banana plants help to protect fragile soils from erosion, particularly in densely populated areas with high rainfall. In Uganda, bananas provide the staple for more than 2/3 of the population - the annual consumption reaches over 400 kg per person. As well as providing a staple food, the sales of these bananas in the urban areas provide an income for the largely rural population of the country. Uganda grows and eats 11 million tons of plantains each year, making them the world’s largest producer, although plantain production is now on a decline due to the increase of fast-spreading diseases and declining soil fertility. The plantains are transported on heavy lorries to distribution points, then continue on the back of a bicycle to the sales stalls. Often we see a small child pushing a large bike up a steep hill with a huge bunch of bananas hanging from each side as well as two bunches on the back.
All along the road are large grey bags full of charcoal, topped with straw. I've often wondered why people cook over charcoal. It seems so labour-intensive to stack up wood in huge, dirt ovens and bake it slowly down to little black lumps. Why not just burn the wood? To make charcoal, wood (mostly acacia trees are used here) is baked slowly under layers of soil to deprive it of oxygen. With the volatile components (water, tar and methane) baked away, all that is left is a pile of black pellets just 20- 25% of the original volume of the wood. It is now mostly carbon, and when it burns, it doesn’t emit lots of smoke, and it will burn hotter, longer and cleaner than wood, which means that it can easily be used inside the mud huts without filling the houses with smoke.
This area is famous for its unique Ankole cattle, one of Africa’s most imposing domestic animals. The most distinguishing feature of the Ankole cattle, is its enormous horns, which can reach the same proportions as an elephant’s tusk! The long-horned Ankole cattle were introduced to Uganda in the Middle Ages, and they are particularly suited to the harsh, arid conditions in Africa, as they can survive on limited water, extremes of temperature and poor grazing. The large horns act as radiators; blood circulating through the horn area is cooled and then returned to the main body. This allows excess body heat to be dispersed. These remarkable creatures have been closely associated with the tall, slender, brown-skinned Bahima people of the Ankole Kingdom whose relationship with their special cattle almost borders on religious with a deep friendship, devotion and comradeship between the two; the cattle are the man’s best friend and he treats them as such. As in many African cultures, the cattle are viewed as a status symbol: the wealth of a man would be judged by the size and quality of his herd, and the individual cow by the length of its horn. Traditionally, the Bahima would drain blood from a living cow and mix with its milk, this being their sole food, only slaughtering the animals for special occasions. No part of the animal would go to waste, the dung would be used as plaster or fuel, the pelt to make drums, clothing and mats, and the horns would be made into musical instruments. Tradition dictates that women are not allowed to participate in several activities regarding cattle care, such as milking, watering or bleeding them. Cows would also be used as a dowry when Bahima men marry, and cattle rustling was common. The Bahima people are nomadic, walking their cattle long distances every day in search of green pastures and water. Beef from Ankole cattle has been found to contain less cholesterol and fat than other types of beef.