Following the completion of her Australia Awards Masters in Horticulture from the University of Queensland, Babita Dussoruth returned to Mauritius where she currently works as a Senior Research Scientist at the Food and Agricultural Research and Extension Institute (FAREI). Earlier this year, Babita received an Australia Awards Small Grant valued at AUD10,000 to develop banana puree – turning surplus banana into a pulp to be stored for later use, thereby adding value to what would normally be waste banana. The banana puree project has the potential to contribute to Mauritius’s development agenda. For women, particularly those who are the sole economic providers in their families, the ability to take advantage of surplus, spoiled or wasted banana to create banana puree will include them in the agribusiness industry and provide a supplementary income to their households. From a commercial productivity perspective, the banana puree project has the potential to reduce post-harvest revenue loss for farmers.
According to Babita, Mauritius is a small island of about 2,040 km2, and banana is the most grown and consumed fruit in Mauritius. The fruit is mostly consumed fresh when ripe, but cooking banana into curries to accompany the staple food is also a common feature of the local cuisine. Some 5% of green banana is also processed into chips and this sector is gradually taking on a new dimension with more people joining the business of chip-making, mostly for the local market. Although there is an increasing demand for banana, there are often surpluses when conditions for banana growth are favourable. Moreover, small-sized bananas, which are unfit for sale as fresh fruit, are often left in the field. FAREI is focused on the creation of new products and on training entrepreneurs as part of the government policy to provide incentives and support to emerging small and medium enterprises.
Ripe banana is frequently used in pastries, such as banana pies or Danish pastries, but the banana is either cooked with sugar for immediate use or refrigerated for later use. The processing for the production of cooked banana is time consuming, thus the availability of ready-made banana puree (mashed banana pulp) or banana filling is of interest to bakeries. This is the first study in Mauritius on the commercial feasibility of banana waste utilisation in the processed food industry.
The outcomes of the banana puree project are improving the livelihoods of people by giving a value to what is otherwise thrown away. Revenue for banana farmers is significantly reduced when too much fruit is harvested, small fruits are left in the field, or due to mishandling when small bruises occur on the bananas. In addition, overripe bananas are often not sellable. Thus, value-addition to such ‘waste’ banana would allow revenue generation to those wishing to convert such bananas into a useful product.
Through Babita’s continued links with the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (QDAFF), she held planning discussions with Dr Kent Fanning, an Agricultural Scientist at QDAFF and Project Leader on a similar study in Australia. The research activities really kicked off when Dr Fanning visited Mauritius in January 2015 to train Babita’s research team on the entire banana puree process, including the preparatory phase (selecting bananas, handling, washing and blanching them), pulping and blending, packaging and storage. Advice was also sought regarding the procurement of equipment to aid in the making of the puree. Three women made up the Mauritian research team directly involved in this project: apart from Babita’s role in supply selected banana varieties, monitoring and project management, Nirmala Ramburn was the Principal Research Scientist and Yovanna Subramamiam focused on product development and training. During his mission, Dr Fanning trained four additional staff members, who also contributed to the realisation of the project.
Nearly 30 people were trained in banana puree production, of which 21 were women. Those who were trained have a small shop, own a banana field or are already into pastry making or some type of food processing entrepreneurship. Two people have already started making use of this technology as they own a pastry shop. Training on the bulk handling of bananas for puree making and storing it for further use allowed them to make judicious use of their limited resources and save time from handling small batches of banana as and when they were needed.
Towards the end of 2015, a survey of local entrepreneurs who have received training on the puree process would be conducted to determine the effects banana processing have on labour, especially employment opportunities for women. In early 2016, the research team would also assess how banana puree contributed to reduced wastage and additional revenue for farmers. Their hope was that the project would make a tangible difference to banana growers. If processors and entrepreneurs started using the puree in the food industry, it would act as an incentive to local growers to produce more bananas. Beyond the benefits for the local banana industry, the project created an important collaborative tie between QDAFF and FAREI. These links would continue with further idea and knowledge sharing that would benefit both Mauritius and Australia.