In the face of climate change, war, and the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic, food insecurity has intensified globally. This crisis underscores the urgency for innovative agricultural solutions that prioritize localisation and regional collaboration. One such solution lies in the study of a crop called: Ensete ventricosum, commonly known as Enset.


Enset farm in Gamo Highlands, Ethiopia
PC: Alabaster International

The Potential of Enset

Indigenous to Ethiopia, Enset is a versatile, drought-resistant crop that can be harvested throughout the year. It remains resilient against varying temperatures, altitudes, and rainfall. Despite its significance as a sustainable food source for nearly 20 million people in Southern Ethiopia, Enset’s potential remains largely untapped and under-researched. It is not currently scaled within Ethiopia and its potential is untested beyond its borders. 

Collaborative Research for a Humanitarian Cause

Alabaster International’s Enset Food Security Initiative aims to explore the regional adaptability of Enset by analysing both wild and domesticated Enset strains in Ethiopia and Kenya.  Additionally, it seeks to transfer domesticated strains from Ethiopia to Kenya for research. The objective is to develop tissue culture protocols and optimisation techniques so the viability and versatility of Enset as a regional food security crop can be further understood. 

This endeavor is a collaborative effort between Arba Minch University of Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Biodiversity Institute, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture & Technology in Kenya, and two NGOs: Alabaster International (USA) and Girl Child Network (Kenya). Together, this team aims to ensure that this Enset research not only adheres to strict access and benefit-sharing laws in Ethiopia but also has a humanitarian focus, ultimately benefiting communities affected by food insecurity.

Farm to Table 

Enset is a banana-like crop, but its fruit is inedible. Rather, its pseudostem and “corm” are harvested. These are scraped into a paste, fermented underground for two weeks, and then unearthed to make porridge, bread, chapati, and other traditional dishes. The crop is rich in carbohydrates, fibre, and minerals such as calcium, potassium, iron, and zinc.

Enset is harvested into two main types of pastes: “kocho”, brown in color and high in fiber, best for making bread, and “bulla”, which is whiter and high in Vitamin B12, best for making porridge. Bulla porridge is mostly used as both a nutritional and medicinal food for pregnant women and nursing mothers due to its abundance of vitamins and minerals. Kocho has a sour taste and is best paired with butter or spices and in Ethiopia, it is usually served with a meat dish. Additionally, Enset’s stem can be boiled and eaten directly – known as “amicho” – which doesn’t require scraping its sheath or fermentation. Similar to cassava, amicho is high in carbohydrates and provides a rich source of calories, especially for children.



Women and Enset Go Hand-in-Hand

Enset and its cultivation have a unique impact on women and smallholder farmers because in Ethiopia it is primarily cultivated by women. Women often form groups to support one another in Enset harvesting and processing as the technique can be labor-intensive. Further research on Enset elevates the indigenous knowledge and regenerative agricultural practices these women farmers have passed on for generations. Alabaster’s initiative not only preserves their unique expertise but also helps systematise it, enabling sharing and scalability.

The preservation and dissemination of indigenous farming methods, with a focus on women, underscores the importance of gender inclusion and food sovereignty. This concept asserts that each community has the right to grow, harvest, and eat foods that are nutritious and aligned with their culture and values. In addition, studies show that Enset promotes soil fertility and conserves water in its large leaf ribs, contributing to the overall health of farms and enabling a permaculture model to be established, revitalising crops that grow alongside it. Enset’s leaves also serve as fodder for livestock and its remaining sheaths after scraping are made into organic, heavy-duty rope, providing women with an additional source of economic empowerment.


Looking Ahead

This initiative aims to position Enset as a viable solution to combat climate change and alleviate poverty. By doing so, the health and resilience of vulnerable communities in the region can be significantly improved. Enset is nature’s answer to hunger and by tapping into the potential of this indigenous crop, the region can take a significant step towards a sustainable and secure food future, while cooling the planet, contributing to food justice, and elevating the role of women in the overall food system in East Africa. 

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