Prof Muranga’s Inspiring Story on Using ‘Tooke’ Flour to Fight Malnutrition, Cancer

Prof Muranga speaking to ChimpReports in Kampala last week

Ten years ago, order Professor Florence Isabirye Muranga was invited to the National Leadership Institute, visit this site Kyankwanzi to give a lecture to NRM leaders.

She had just finished her ground-breaking PhD thesis titled “Composition and physicochemical characteristics of starches of different banana varieties.”

At Kyankwanzi, this Prof Muranga was carrying chips made of Matooke (bananas).

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She gave a scientific presentation on adding value to bananas to fight malnutrition, cancer and tap into foreign markets – an address that thrilled the audience.

“It was my most memorable lecture,” recalled Prof Muranga when we met last week at his office in Nakasero, Kampala.

“I told them (NRM leaders) that these products have got the ability to give you instant flour.”

President Museveni was so thrilled by the possibility of obtaining flour from Matooke that he quietly approached the distinguished food technologist with a proposal.

“Can we give you money to get flour from Matooke?” Museveni asked Muranga.

“Sorry, I don’t need the money. I have to go. I am going to Germany and I already have the ticket,” Muranga responded.

“Don’t go,” the President pleaded.

Two days later, Muranga would arrive in Germany for her Post Doctorate. She had a similar offer in United States.

It never struck Prof Muranga that she would return to Uganda to add value to the bananas and help local farmers rapidly access profitable market chains that supply local, regional and international markets.

In Germany, Prof Muranga was informed by an administrator that if her successful research could be implemented in Uganda, the country’s agriculture sector would get a big boost.

“If a multinational company implements this research, your people will remain poor,” a University administrator told Prof Muranga, who had earlier rejected an offer from President Museveni.

“But your research can change your country.”

It’s at that moment that she realised that Uganda needed her to transform the hugely subsistence agriculture sector.

Tooke products on display during the recent Jinja exhibition

Tooke products on display during the recent Jinja exhibition

Meeting Museveni  

On return, Prof Muranga met with Museveni.

“I am back. If you allow me to add value to the bananas with support of the communities, I will do it. But I don’t trust you politicians because you easily change your mind,” she told the president.

She added: “Can you agree to be patron of this project? We don’t want you to abandon us.”

Museveni agreed to the proposal.

A few months later, 12 distinguished professors including Muranga would brainstorm and form guidelines for setting up an industry to add value to bananas.

This gave birth to the Presidential Initiative on Banana Industrial Development (PIBID).

It is modeled around a rural Technology Business Incubator (TBI) and an Industrial Technology Park (ITP), models that enhance success of early stages of technology transfer and diffusion and entrepreneurship among entrepreneurs, researchers and academics.


The country has been eager to see products on the market.

Prof Muranga said following intense research, three generic matooke flours; raw, instant and extruded forms and matooke starch are being introduced to the market in the next few months.

Second generation products including bread, cakes, biscuits, cookies, children’s foods, soups and porridge are hitting the stands too.

Despite reminders that Ugandans have doubts about locally manufactured goods, Prof Muranga remains optimistic that the country will embrace the products.

I asked her to explain, for example, why Ugandans should buy the banana flour.

Tooke products on display

Tooke products on display

Fighting cancer

She said matooke is not only a nutritious food but also facilitates cleansing of the stomach hence preventing cancer. This is due to high level of soluble fibre contained in the banana.

“In Africa, we would eat and never thought of cleansing the stomach like it is today. Many staples are unpleasant and get stuck in the stomach,” she noted.

It’s often in the bowels that cancerous cells grow before spreading to other parts of the body.

But when you eat matooke, said Prof Muranga, “it easily facilitates the cleansing of the stomach due to the soluble fibre which facilitates digestion.’

The Uganda Cancer Institute says it receives about 1,700 new patients with cancer each year.

She further submitted that Tooke flour can act as a food supplement for rice and wheat flour by lending a better comfort for the digestive system.

“Imagine the feeling of consuming biscuits made of pure wheat. The digestion is not always pleasant. But with matooke biscuits, your digestion goes on smoothly. This is because the flour lends a good finish to confectioneries,” she added.

Further Prof Muranga informed us that Tooke flour is virtually free of flatoxin. It is therefore a prize to the children’s food market in Africa.

The Cost of Hunger in Africa study (2013) estimated that Uganda loses around $899 million per year — around 5.6 per cent of its gross domestic product — as a result of workers getting sick more often and being less productive because they lacked the right nutrition as children.

According to the report, malnourished children dropping out or underperforming at school subtracts around $116 million from an economy in need of educated workers.

Lower productivity in sectors such as agriculture cost Uganda another $201 million per year.

The country spends around $254 million per year treating cases of diarrhoea, anaemia and respiratory infections linked to malnutrition. Enough children die each year of causes related to hunger to reduce Uganda’s labor force by some 3.8 per cent.

That amounts to some 934 million working hours lost every year due to an absent workforce.

In Prof Muranga’s boardroom, the walls are covered by photos of PIBID products; academic accolades and pictures of her close family members.

She dons a ‘Tooke’ brand cap and t-shirt, underlining her consciousness about the value of branding and marketing in product promotion.

Business sense

After presenting the special ‘Tooke’ products on the local market, how will Uganda tap into foreign markets?

She listens carefully, deeply reflects on the question before making her response.

“Uganda should celebrate,” suggests the Professor, with her eyes beaming with excitement and confidence.

Museveni and Janet inspecting Tooke products at a recent exhibition

Museveni and Janet inspecting Tooke products at a recent exhibition

“We have new a homegrown brand to be proud of. Some countries in East Africa, COMESA and even West Africa such as Nigeria have already showed interest in Tooke flour. Even Japan is interested,” says Prof Muranga.

A well promoted Tooke product would see government reap billions of dollars from foreign markets struggling with unpleasant staples especially wheat.

Asked whether Tooke flour is affordable to the Ugandan common man, Prof Muranga said that was one of her main objectives.

For example the Tooke flour costs Shs 1,000. One can use it for porridge. Mixed with milk, the Tooke flour is healthy for babies.

“Right now benchmarks are high because we are producing small. The overheads are high. But power lines are being fixed at the industrial centre in Bushenyi,” she said.

PIBID aspires to generate power from waste; a move Muranga says will reduce costs of production.

Muranga says Ugandan farmers will eventually reap from an expanded market for the bananas hence improving household incomes.

She is equally optimistic that PIBID will give way to a public-private establishment which will offer shares to farmers and the wider public.

Dr Muranga showed me her Presidential Scientific Innovation Excellence Award for the 2005/06 Presidential Science Award.

It was in recognition of her exceptional achievements in using matooke as a major raw material in the food processing industry.

In 2006, Muranga was honoured alongside other eminent and successful women in Africa by Management Forum of the British Council, Uganda.

“The going has been tough,” admitted Muranga.

“But my dream is every child in Uganda should afford Tooke flour for a cup of porridge every morning. It’s healthy, nutritious and locally produced.”


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