How has Ethiopian enset, sometimes called “false banana”, rocked the climate conversation steadily over the course of the past decade? Scientists have been raving about its climate change potential, and a new report backs this up as well.
According to a new study, the banana-like crop has the potential to feed more than 100 million people on a warming planet. Outside of Ethiopia, where it is used to produce porridge and bread, the plant is hardly unknown. According to research, the crop can be produced across a considerably broader area in Africa.
“This is a crop that can play a really important role in addressing food security and sustainable development,” said Dr Wendawek Abebe, an employee of Hawassa University in Awasa, Ethiopia, as reported by the BBC.
“Enset (Ensete ventricosum) is a perennial banana relative with cultivation restricted to southwestern Ethiopia, where high productivity and harvest flexibility enables it to provide a starch staple for 20 million people. An extensive wild distribution suggests that a much larger region may be climatically suitable for cultivation,” according to the study, titled “Modelling potential range expansion of an underutilised food security crop in Sub-Saharan Africa”.
Benefits against climate change
In addition to producing a high-calorie pulp that feeds millions of Ethiopians, enset has several unique qualities that make it a promising crop for addressing food insecurity and long-term farming issues. Despite being a plant, enset’s unusual characteristics have earned it the nickname “tree against hunger”.
Unlike other crops, enset may be planted and harvested at any time of year, making it a reliable food source that can be easily renewed. “Hundreds of fresh shoots” can be harvested from one plant to develop new crops if treated correctly. It is considered to be a hardy plant and it is somewhat drought resistant.
“We find contemporary bioclimatic suitability for a 12-fold range expansion, equating to 21.9% of crop land and 28.4% of the population in the region. Integration of crop wild relative diversity, which has broader climate tolerance, could enable a 19-fold expansion, particularly to dryer and warmer regions. Whilst climate change may cause a 37% – 52% reduction in potential range by 2070, large centres of suitability remain in the Ethiopian Highlands, Lake Victoria region and the Drakensberg Range,” the study reads.