Sunday, March 7, 2010

Going bananas?

These three photos describe the highland reaches of Karagwe, Tanzania, where I have been living these past two weeks.

It is banana heaven! The economy depends on growing this luscious fruit and exporting it to the lower regions of a country, the size of Texas. I understand there are many species of banana plants, but certain ones are used to raise cooking bananas, dessert bananas, plantain, and banana liquor. Incidentally, I have yet to have sample banana beer, banana wine or banana whiskey, but I may have that opportunity this evening.

I am not sure when bananas were first introduced, but newer more productive strains have been arriving for years. I know its presence has transformed the landscape. I keep on asking what this area looked like before it went "bananas" and what happened. Apparently, most of the native trees were cut down or burned up through huge wildfires. Earlier peoples mismanaged their crops and soil and then moved on to other places. Also this area and its environment was heavily impacted by large numbers of refugees fleeing neighboring Rwuanda and Burundi who, having no means of sustaining themselves, had to plunder the land and its animals. The distant hills, seen in the last two pictures, are barren and the ground suffers from terrible problems of erosion. There are also no animals roaming about and no monkeys are welcome in banana plantations. Yet, on once lonely soil there are now groves similar to the first photo and there are verdant homesteads everywhere.

Nonetheless, local people are being educated by local organizations on land management, and there is great will on a community level, to improve the environment.

Over time I may forget much of what I have learned and seen here, but I know that every sweet banana I eat at home will point me to my days in Tanzania.


  1. That balance between eating (or getting rich in some places) and preservation/restoration of the land is something we have to think about everywhere. I look at all of the felled trees in our area, some due to storms and some not. Even 10 years ago, it was so different. Your comments seem very well considered.

  2. I agree with tapirgal. I have seen so much change over the past ten years and the balance she speaks of is most definitely something we all need to think about. Marvelous and insightful post as always, Lee. Hope you have another great week!


  3. I bought a bunch of bananas (among other things) at the store last night. After reading your post through the first time, I just HAD to eat two of them before I read it a second time!

    It seems so self-evident now that although of course we have to eat, future generations have to eat too, or there aren't going to be any future generations. And yet permaculture--the concept of replenishing and restoring the land even as you are using to grow food this season--seems like a new and cutting-edge concept, and in many ways it is. It is presently being taught in expensive and somewhat esoteric workshops, often beyond the reach of the average person. But I can imagine a time in the not-too-distant future when it will be taught in every high school as a basic life skill, the same way I was taught cooking and sewing back in the day.

    Conservation, environmentalism, permaculture--whatever you want to call it, it's really nothing more than enlightened self-interest on a global scale.

  4. Hope when you get back you'll get a Picasa account and load it with lots of photos with comments!