KAPALONG, Davao del Norte -- The P2-million mechanical drying facility is boosting the cooperative's banana flour production here.

Banana flour is a by-product of Class "C" off-grade fresh bananas. Currently there is a high demand for banana flour as ingredient for catsup production as well as substitute for wheat flour.

For five years now, the AMS Fresh Fruits Producers Cooperative (AMSEFFPCO), an agrarian reform beneficiary had been producing banana flour on top of their regular fresh banana fruit production.

"Ten percent of our fresh banana production is considered rejects or off-grade for not meeting the required standard size by our export market. Instead of dumping our bananas we utilized it as banana flour," said Rizalie Calma, the coop's project manager.

She said their co-op produces two types of flour, the feed grade for livestock and the other one as food grade for processing and as wheat flour substitute.

"We used to produce 15 tons of feed grade flour per month and only five tons for food grade flour. The feed grade flour is priced at P8.00 per kilo while the food grade flour is priced as high as P18.00 - 20.00 per kilo" Calma said.

He added: "There is bigger income in food grade flour production but we cannot cope with demand as lack of better drying facilities limits us."

She said they have tried to produce food grade flour using the solar dryer but the volume is very low considering that it will take about two days to dry the chipped banana.

Aside from low production, solar drying is not also recommended for food grade flour, as it is prone to contamination.

The AMSEFFPCO has sought the assistance of their provincial government, which endorsed their proposal for a mechanical drying facility to the Mindanao Rural Development Program (MRDP).

MRDP is a special program of the Department of Agriculture (DA-MRDP), which provides funding for people's organizations and cooperatives to scale-up their livelihood projects into viable enterprise.

The AMSEFFPCO's has accessed P2-million from MRDP's Community Fund for Agricultural Development for expansion of their food grade flour processing. The said amount paved way for the construction of a drying facility, which include the building, mechanical drying unit, and other needed equipment.

"The mechanical drying unit is the most appropriate for production of food grade banana flour as it eliminates aflatoxin and bacterial contamination," Calma said.

"We can also continue our production even during rainy," she adding that using the mechanical dryer is also economical since it uses biomass particularly rice hull as fuel.

She said they are optimistic that with the said facility they can produce as high 15 tons of food grade flour per month. "Instead of producing more feed grade flour, we will now reverse the production to food grade as it is more lucrative," Calma said.

The co-op is also hoping to take advantage of the existing huge demand of at least 1,000 tons per month from the food manufacturing companies.

Aside from flour production, the co-op also utilizes the banana peeling into organic fertilizer which do not only bring down cost of their inputs but also restores farms' soil fertility.

In peeling activity alone, 20 workers were employed mostly women and indigenous tribe in the community. (Noel T. Provido/DA-MRDP)