Sustainable Use of Rresources by Enset Cultures of Ethiopia
The enset plant provides almost everything that the enset cultures of Southwest Ethiopia need. In their own words they say "It is our house, our food, our bed, our basket our clothing, our medicine.
The enset is usually grown around the beautiful grass thatched homes of the many ethnic groups of the region. They frame the homes and add to its beauty and the beauty of the landscape. It is quite a sight to see. It also provides protection from wind and the harsh tropical sun.
Some Enset Types that are Used as Medicine
Many variety of enset have been cultivated in south west Ethiopia. Besides providing a variety of Kocho, amicho and bulla for consumption, there are other types of enset which are used for medicinal purposes. Some medicinal ensets are Areye, Agade and Astaran and they are used to heal broken bones, to strengthen the back, and to heal wounds. Kibnar is used to treat hacking coughs, Shiberat is for skin diseases and to bring down swelling.
The Many useful things Made out of Enset
Besides providing food and medcine, the enset is used to make many other things. In fact every part of it is used. The dried leaf sheats are made into rugs, mats, bags, wrapping paper , lid for pots etc… Traditionally every Gurage home has beautiful wall to wall rug made out of these leaf sheaths, It is called a gibba. The fresh green leaves are used as cover when baking bread, as a plate, to wrap cheese or butter, as a spread to sit or sleep on, as cattle feed etc… The leaves and leaf sheaths have strong stringy material that are used used to make ropes, bags, sacks, and even clothing. Now a days the production of these materials are beginning to be industrialized. Anything that is left is used as fuel or cattle feed.
Amazingly Sustainable Crop
What makes enset most sustainable is that it is excellent for the soil. Study after study has
shown that enset growing enriches the soil because for one the large leaves helps the soil to
retain moisture.The leaves,
and roots prevent soil erosion. It produces an bundance of fallen leaves and leave sheats which serve as mulch. Enset
takes less nitrogen out of the soil.The animal manure used to fertilize the
soil enriches it further. When compared to topical forest
soil, it is found almost as rich. Enset has been cultivated non stop for hundreds or even thousands of years with little or no damage to the soil.
Other properties of enset that makes it a
sustainable crop to grow is that it yields a lot more food per unit area than
many cereal such as maze.One single enset produces a lot of food. The pseudo stem from which most of the food comes from is about 10 meters in height and 1 meter in diameter.Then there is the corm about i meter in height and 1 meter in diameter filled with edible starch. It s said one enset could provide for a family of 5 or 6 for 1 month. All in all about 10 million people rely on enset as a major staple food.
The enset plantation provides the perfect soil to grow crops that grow best in the shade. Many of the ethnic groups take advantage of this, The Geodes for example grow coffee under the enset, the enset plant provides a good soil and a nice shade for the coffee. The delicious fair trade coffee labeled Yirgacheffe you find in many food stores come from thiese area. Gurage's grow a variety of potatoes in the shade.
Kocho and Bulla Real Famine Foods
As a member of the Gurage ethnic group, my mother has stored kocho in a pit during the Ethiopian socialist revolution in the 1970s. It
was a time of much violence and there was a shortage of food. My grandfather kept great reserves of
kocho in his backyard during the very violent invasion of Ethiopia by Italy in the
1930,s. Our family fared a lot better than many others. So I know for a fact that these foods from enset are life savers during hard times.
Two Main Drawbacks of Enset
Nothing is perfect and enset has its weaknesses. The two main ones are for one the kocho has very little protein and therefore needs a high protein source to complement it. The other is the length of time it takes to grow this plant is 4 to 5 years. The kocho and bulla have always been eaten with a high protein source such as meat, cheese, milk, legumes or even green leafy vegetables. Of course during hard times it may be hard to find these protein sources. But still kocho has always been helpful during challenging times.
As for the length of time the enset takes to grow, it is getting to be a problem already in Ethiopia. The Sidamas' population has increased exponentially and therefore their land holdings per family have shrank. The consequence of this is that they are harvesting younger and younger ensets because of poverty. This means that the enset plant in this area will be disappearing if something is not done about it soon.
Interest and funding for research has gotten better ever since the 1980's famine. Hopefully someone will discover an enset species that matures faster. I think the enset is one of the amazing crops that should thrive. With modern technology all the difficulties with it should be solved. Problems such as the grueling tedious work of scraping the leaf sheaths done by women should be solved soon. I am almost sure the technology is out there. It just a matter of designing one suitable for this particular task.
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