Food Security Crops: Enset

Enset (Ensete ventricosum) is also called “false banana”. It is related to the banana tree, but its fruit is inedible. Technically, both the enset tree and the banana tree are plants. Their apparent tree trunk is a large plant stalk, called a pseudostem, not a true tree trunk.

The enset tree is larger than the banana tree, and can reach as high as 10 meters. The food from the enset plant is found in the pseudostem (above ground) and in the starchy corm (mostly below ground) at the base of the pseudostem. In mature plants, the corm can be as large as 0.7 meters in diameter and about the same height. [AAAS, “The Tree Against Hunger, Enset-based Agricultural Systems in Ethiopia”, Description] One enset plant can provide from 20 to 40 kg of food. [United Nations Development Programme, Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia, Dr. Robert Shank and Chernet Ertiro, “A Linear Model for Predicting Enset Plant Yield and Assessment of Kocho Production in Ethiopia“]

“The major foods obtained from enset are kocho, bulla and amicho. Kocho is the bulk of the fermented starch obtained from the mixture of the decorticated (scraped) leafsheaths and grated corm (underground stem base). Kocho can be stored for long periods of time without spoiling…. Bulla is obtained by: 1) scraping the leafsheath, peduncle, and grated corm into a pulp; 2) squeezing liquid containing a starch from the pulp… 3) allowing the resultant starch to concentrate into a white powder; and 4) rehydrating with water…. Bulla can be prepared as a pancake, porridge, or dumpling. Amicho is the boiled enset corm, usually of a younger plant…. Enset plants may be uprooted for preparing meals quickly if the amount of enset harvested is insufficient, or for special occasions. The corm is boiled and consumed in a manner similar to preparation methods for other root and tuber crops.” [AAAS, “The Tree Against Hunger, Enset-based Agricultural Systems in Ethiopia”, Uses of Enset]

The enset plant takes 3 to 5 years to reach maturity, but the food need not be harvested immediately. The harvest can occur at any time, even years after the plant reaches maturity. This makes enset an excellent food security crop. If there is a crop failure, or a drought, or food scarcity for any other reason, the family that maintains a stand of enset trees has ample food for survival.

“Enset is a flexible-harvest crop in that households have the option to utilize it at any time after maturity — i.e. a mature Enset plant becomes a mini household food security system available for harvesting and processing immediately or it can be ‘held in reserve’ for another 5 to 10 years and it continues to grow and mature.” [Ali B. Dinar, editor, “Enset: Background and Literature Reviewed“]

Unfortunately, the food taken from the enset plant is low in protein and very low in fat: protein 4.42%, fat 0.24%, carbs 76.34%, fiber 7.14%. [Macronutrient data taken as an average of six varieties from: Tsehaye and Kebebew, “Diversity and cultural use of Enset (Enset ventricosum (Welw.) Cheesman) in Bonga in situ Conservation Site, Ethiopia.”, p. 150] It is mainly a source of carbohydrates. This fact makes enset a poor choice to overcome world hunger; the hungry primarily need dietary fat, and secondarily need protein. However, enset is an excellent food crop to prevent the hungry from falling from a state of undernourishment (due to a lack of fat and protein) into a state of famine.

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