Rebecca Nafula sells ripe bananas on the outskirts of Kakamega town in western Kenya. Her clients include grocery shop owners, workers at construction sites, students, and hospital patients. To make sure she always has enough bananas, she ripens them quickly with avocados.
She explains, “It used to take more than three weeks before the bananas could ripen, but when I learnt how to use avocados, life became easier and the business became interesting.”
Ms. Nafula lives in Shitaho village in Kakamega county. She learned the local method of using avocado to ripen bananas quickly from her mother-in-law.
She used to struggle to ripen bananas because she simply hung them near the fireplace in her grass-thatched kitchen. But now, by using avocados, it takes only a short time before the bananas are ready for sale.
Ms. Nafula uses three unripe avocados to ripen up to three bunches of bananas. She says, “One bunch of bananas takes two to three days to ripen. And before the avocados become ripe themselves, I will have ripened three bunches.”
It’s not difficult. She explains, “I take a bunch of bananas and break the clusters and put the avocados at the base of a sack. Then I put the bananas on top of the avocados and tighten the top of the sack.”
After two or three days, the bananas start ripening and she removes them from the sack. She places them on a clean floor or on a table and covers them with clothing to allow the bananas to become yellow.
Most of her customers don’t like green bananas, though she supplies ripe, green bananas in bulk to some clients. These clients buy them to resell because green bananas last much longer.
Ann Mudavadi is a farmer in the same area. To ripen bananas, she used to dig a pit and put the bananas inside, covering it with dry banana leaves and then with soil. But the bananas were usually eaten by ants or became rotten because of too much heat or moisture.
But now Ms. Mudavadi also uses avocados to ripen her bananas, and says it’s cheap and efficient. She adds: “Since I started using them, my life has been easy and the business is booming. My clients like my bananas.”
Eunice Manga also uses avocados to ripen bananas. Ms. Manga used to ripen bananas inside a sisal sack, but it took about two to three weeks.
She says: “I used to wonder why their bananas were ripening faster than mine…. They told me they use avocados and that is when I gave it a try. It is now more than 10 years and I have never failed to ripen bananas for my clients at the Kakamega County General Hospital.”
Benjamin Chege is an agricultural researcher in Kenya. He commends farmers like Ms. Nafula for using the avocado method to ripen bananas. He says avocado contains a chemical called ethylene that quickens the ripening process.
Mr. Chege warns farmers and traders not to use dangerous chemicals such as calcium carbide to ripen bananas because of the negative side effects of the chemicals, which includes the risk of developing cancer.
On average, Ms. Nafula makes around 1,600 Kenyan shillings ($15.5 US) per day from selling avocado-ripened bananas. With her income from banana farming, Ms. Nafula has been able to send her children to school and has joined a savings group in order to start projects like rearing poultry and goats.