The evergreen plant stands straight and tall in the ground. It grows up to several meters in height with impressively large, green leaves. A red stripe runs down in the middle of the leaves towards the stem.

Outside of Africa and Asia the plant is almost unheard-of. Ensete is also called ‘false banana’ because of the strikingly similar appearance. Even banana-looking fruits are dangling from the plant. However, the fruit of the Ensete is not edible and contains a lot of seeds.

In Ethiopia, it is harvested mainly for the starchy components.

Apparently already a small plantation of 60 plants can provide enough meals to feed a family of five for one year.
There are many stories and legends about how the false banana was discovered as a robust crop in Ethiopia. Fact is, the false banana can survive with little to no water over a longer period of time than many other crops and plants. This makes the Ensete especially important and valuable in times of famine and drought. 

Not only food

In areas where food and water are sparse, where populations depend on the regional crops, the false banana provides not only necessary nutrients, but also other useful materials.

The pseudostem is harvested mainly to obtain fermented starch, an ingredient for a traditional kind of flatbread, called kocho.
Smaller and young leaves can be consumed as a vegetable and the larger leaves are sometimes used to feed animals. Moreover, larger leaves can be turned into packaging material. Even the plants fiber is used among other things for weaving, making mats and ropes.

It takes several hours to harvest only one plant and days to work on a few plants.

Since the plant reaches the size of a tree, the harvest takes time and effort.  Apparently, most of the harvest steps, including the preparation of the fermented pulp is operated by women. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that the Ensete has turned into a staple food in Ethiopia. The flatbread Kocho provides high energy, fibre and minerals to millions of people every day.

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