Bananas are the favourite fruit for UK households – in fact, they’re the most popular fruit in the whole world. In Kenya, the leaves of the banana plant are now being used to improve donkey welfare, international charity The Donkey Sanctuary has seen this month.
The charity’s Kenya team have been working with farmers in the Western Kenyan village of Sango who use donkeys to transport their bananas to market. Together the team and farmers have developed pack saddle pads made from dried banana leaves, in order to reduce back wounds.
Overseas Communications Officer Philippa Davies says: “We usually teach donkey owners to make back protectors out of hessian sacks, but these weren’t available locally. However, banana leaves are plentiful and free of charge.
“During a recent visit, one of our Kenyan field/extension officers, Nicholas Mungiria, remembered his family making bed mattresses out of dried banana leaves when he was a child. He began experimenting to find ways of adapting the technique to make a pack saddle pad.
“By tying tightly-packed bundles of dampened leaves on to sticks with sisal fibre, which also grows naturally, he helped the group to make an effective donkey back protector, at very little cost. The donkey handlers, a group of 23 women, have been trying out this model for a month, during which time they’ve modified the design themselves so that it fits across the donkey’s backbone better.
“Early reports from the women indicate that the back protector is proving effective in cushioning the loads and reducing back wounds on the donkeys, but the team will be making follow-up visits to check for themselves and assess the donkeys’ condition.”
Donkeys are a vital form of transport in Kenya, used to carry daily necessities including water and firewood as well as building materials, household goods and farm produce. But although many people rely on their donkeys to make a living, they often lack the knowledge and skills to keep the donkeys healthy and prevent wounds or disease.
The Donkey Sanctuary has been working in Kenya since 1994. Its mobile teams visit donkey owning communities up to 400 km from their base near Nairobi, giving veterinary treatments and advice, training government vets, and teaching people to make good harness. The charity relies on donations from the public to carry out this work.