Enset: A Plant that Feeds Families During the Hardest Times

Join us as we walk through the inspiring story of enset, also known as the “false banana.”  Enset is a remarkable plant that plays a vital role in food resilience in rural Ethiopia.

Food security is a big concern during the lean season. The lean season is the season between the spring harvest and the fall harvest. The regions two growing seasons are called belg and meher. Belg is the shorter spring season from February to April. Meher is the main season from May to September. As you may have guessed, NOW is the lean season in Ethiopia. It’s the perfect time to talk about the amazing plant, enset.

The area where Roots Ethiopia works is completely dependent on rain-fed agriculture. Thus, farming and harvesting occurs yearly during these 2 cycles of rain, growth, and harvest. It is during the meher seasonal rains that food stocks decline – often reaching a peak of scarcity in July/August. When there is scarcity, and the price for food is high, families eat less. During times of drought or obvious under-production of crops due to late rains, infestations, or flooding, families experience hunger. There are times families are in great danger of severe malnutrition and even starvation.

Enset is one of the native plants that helps families fight food insecurity. (You might know it by the name ‘false banana, even though it is not related to the banana family). This unique plant helps families survive food insecurity/food scarcity in rural Ethiopia. It is a plant that grows in most of the rural villages where Roots Ethiopia works.

(Beautiful enset garden)

Families in the area where Roots Ethiopia works often face the harsh realities of droughts and prolonged dry periods, making farming extremely difficult. Enset, however, has evolved over time to adapt to these challenges. With its extensive root system that reaches deep into the soil, enset can access hidden water sources during times of drought. Additionally, its broad leaves are coated with a waxy layer that minimizes water loss through evaporation, ensuring its survival even in the most difficult environments.

Enset is a lifeline for families, especially in the area Roots Ethiopia works that is vulnerable to food crises caused by unpredictable climate patterns. The plant’s large underground corm (a corm is an underground stem that functions as food storage) contains a rich store of nutrients. The corm is a rich source of food during the lean season.  Families who have enset as a staple crop get the benefit of a drought resistant food crop when their families need it most. It’s truly an amazing plant!

Enset isn’t just for food. This ‘tree of life’ also provides fibers for making ropes, baskets, stuffing for mattresses, and more. Every hardworking family uses all of the plant’s robust material to take care of their household needs.

(Fibers to make rope from enset)

Enset is a wonderful plant. It is a true gem of agriculture. When we look around at local family farms with an average size of less than one hectare, enset is a symbol of hope. It represents the power of resilience and community solidarity that is part of every day life in rural Ethiopia.

(Almaz processes the enset, makes her family food from enset, and sells the stalk at the market when she has used all she can)

At Roots Ethiopia, we stand in awe of enset’s ability to enhance food security and help families. Our team spends every day working amidst the enset. Indeed, since our team is local to the area, many of them have enset surrounding their homes.

We honor the fortitude and determination of this plant to continue providing — it is the same honor we feel when we sit with families and children and hear about their hard work and determination in the face of hardship.

(A beautiful blue sky with a crown of enset leaves)

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