The Banana tree has graced us with its presence for centuries, whether out in the wild—it’s natural habitat—or in the cultivated fields of our ancestors. Historians and archaeologists agree that it was one of the earliest plants to be cultivated and that these cultivations date back to as far as 10,000 BC. The earliest remnants of banana tree cultivation have been found in what is present day Papua New Guinea. A tree with so much history and yet to the majority of our planet’s population, still entirely misunderstood. We’re not ones to bet, but in this instance, we would bet that if a survey were conducted, a large percentage of people would have no idea that there are different types of banana trees and that their fruits— the bananas— come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. In fact, let us take this opportunity to clarify that there are over 1000 different varieties and that these varieties can be divided up into 50 sub-groups, talk about biodiversity! So, we have established that the banana tree brings biodiversity to the table, this is however but one of its many gifts to the world. These gifts are what we will be writing about today, as a reminder for the few and an eye opener for the many. All of life’s challenges can be solved if we turn to nature, nature has the solutions.
This **** is bananas
When mentioning bananas, what usually comes to mind are these identically long, yellow, waxy skinned variety which we call Cavendish. This is in-fact the most popular variety of banana, but only because it is highly resistant to disease, it can stay green for many weeks after harvest, it has a very high yield rate, has low energy intensity, and finally looks fantastic on supermarket shelves. For all these reasons, large corporations— which control the banana fruit market— prefer to sell this variety in detriment of providing the other alternatives. This leads to it being one of the most harmful to our environment mainly due to the monoculture production methods and extensive use of agrochemicals. These methods of agriculture in turn lead to polluted waters & contaminated soils. It’s safe to say that somehow, we have been able to transform an unharmful tree into something that has harmful effects on our environment. What for? All for the sake of company profits and “good looking” bananas.
In places like India, where the climate is prone to wild growth of the banana tree and the market is not controlled by an oligopoly of companies, smaller farmers are able to sell their variety of bananas on the open market. This leads to there being over 15-20 commercially available bananas depending on the region of India. For example, if you live or are travelling through the southern state of Tamil Nadu, you are bound to find the Red, the Robusta and the Poovan banana. In the eastern state of West Bengal, you will find varieties such as the Champa, Singapuri or the Mortman banana. The chance for smaller farmers to be a part of the market is good for us as consumers, as it provides us with choice. It is also extremely important as a weapon to combat the negative effects of monocultures.
Leave us your leaves, they might come in handy
Banana fruits are the primary use that we derive from the banana trees, but the fruit is only the tip of the tree. Banana leaves have been used for centuries as food wrappers for cooking, as naturally occurring food holders and more recently as great compostable alternatives to plastic. As it is an edible leaf, it can be boiled, steamed, deep fried and grilled. On a side note, and before we return to why it is a fantastic food wrapper and holder, the banana leaf is also edible for animals, making it a very sustainable source of food. More on that later. Getting back to the cooking, the banana leaf releases characteristic flavors and polyphenols which make the food tastier & more nutritious. It is healthy when cooked, but you can also reap the benefits from the banana leaf by simply using its raw form as a plate. In the Southern part of India, this is prevalent. Using these polyphenol rich leaves as plates, increases the bioavailability in food, acts as a natural anti-bacterial, is an extremely economical way of serving food and ultimately is very hygienic. Hygienic in the sense that the leaves have a natural wax like coating which prevents dust and dirt from sticking to them. Also, hygienic because it helps avoid using plates which may or may not have been properly washed. This reduces the need for soaps, detergents, and plastics. Very economical during these highly inflationary times! Several uses have been mentioned above, but one of the main climate positive aspects of the banana leaf has yet to be discussed…it is biodegradable!
Just as any other leaf, the banana leaf is biodegradable and decomposes naturally. After being used in the ways mentioned above, it can be left to decompose or if eaten by animals as a food source be used as fertilizer for the next banana tree to come to life.
The Banana tree is very impressive. So far, we have discussed how we can eat the tree’s fruits and utilize its leaves. We will now move on to one of the most promising aspects of the banana tree, the stem. In a more traditional setting, after the banana harvest, the tree will be cut and used as biomass as it is unusable for the next harvest. This gives way to the new trees to grow and flourish. This aspect of the banana tree is very important mainly due to the fact that in high intensity banana farming—fourth largest food crop produced in the world—this creates pressure & adds a great amount of biomass that needs to be adequately disposed of. Sure, this can all be left to decompose in the fields, but this would cause an environmental catastrophe as it would produce high levels of greenhouse gases due to the large-scale decomposition process. Here is where human ingenuity steps in! The stems have been found to have alternative uses which can relieve the burden on the soil. The stem fiber of the banana tree is a hard fiber, highly resistant to sea water, buoyant and with a slight elasticity to it. In textiles and due to its elastic nature, it can be transformed into a lightweight material with a comfortable texture. These properties and many more make it a perfect candidate for the following uses:
- Rope & Cordage- shipping cable manufacturing, fishing nets, mats, packaging, sheets, strings & ropes
- Textiles- Cushions covers, bags, tablecloths, curtains, clothes, packaging
- Pulp & Paper- Paper, cardboard, currency note paper, art handicrafts
- Food & Fertilizer- Animal feed, biofertilizer in liquid form, compost & vermi-compost
- Construction- Used to produce polymers and fiber composites
If we further analyze the uses that the banana stem has, we can conclude that a good many of them mentioned above are currently made with plastic or unsustainable chemical compounds, this is a game changer when it comes to replacing and phasing out plastics in these fields!
Looking back at this post and the various applications that the banana tree provides us with, it is clear that we have barely scratched the surface. A lot could be said about the medicinal properties of various parts of the tree: the edible banana flower, which has properties that combat diabetes, bronchitis, dysentery, and ulcers; the banana stems sap, which can be orally taken or externally applied for stings and bites; the roots, ashes of leaves, banana peels and seeds all with their own medicinal properties, too many to mention here as we try to wind down the post. The fact of the matter is the banana tree provides us with the resources to solve major problems facing our planet today. Plastic pollution, the unsustainable garment industry and the usage of chemical fertilizers could be mitigated by the use of the banana tree. All it takes is the willingness to change. The tip of the iceberg—or tip of the tree as we used initially— is a common term used to describe the complexity of certain topics and how sometimes there is more information which is hidden or inaccessible, the banana tree topic is one of those topics. There are many more applications which could have been mentioned but were not, negative effects of the banana tree industry and the banana fruit business that we wanted to expose but could not. Understand that it is a challenge to provide all the information available in a summarized and readable post. That is why it is important to continue to read, discover and see with your own eyes. Here at eragreen, we will be taking it upon ourselves to further explore this topic and its applications for the future. With banana trees on our side, the future is bright! Generation Clean!