As the Ministry of Agriculture continues to promote the concept of value-added agriculture, more and more individuals and companies are getting involved in manufacturing food products from local crops.
One such person is Tonya Ifill who was inspired to produce green banana flour and pasta after attending an agro-processing training course in Guyana two years ago.
“We had to choose a product in Guyana that was new to Guyana. I did a group project and I did sweet potato flour and brown rice flour. My cousin from Canada, he sent a machine for me and I did the product in Guyana.
“When I came back, I was looking for something new but I was seeing sweet potato flour, cassava flour, breadfruit flour. And I believe if somebody sends you on a course to do something you should come back with something new, just don’t come back and do the same, same,” she told Barbados TODAY.
Drawing from her experience in Guyana, where plantain is very popular, Ifill decided to try making by-products from green bananas.
“At first it was a little bit tedious, especially with the pasta, because you’ve got to get the right amount, because this [doesn’t] have in egg, and if it [doesn’t have] egg you don’t have [anything] to hold it. So it was a lot of trial and error, but I got it worked out,” she said.
Ifill began marketing the flour and pasta under her business, Carlesa’s Enterprises, last year. The business name is a combination of her middle name, Carly, and the names of her late grandparents, Leonard and Odessa.
“I first started last year at World Food Day, but I was just giving out samples to see how the product was. Then my first exhibition was Girlfriend’s Expo in February. From there, the sales picked up.”
Buoyed by the public’s response so far, Ifill has now set her sights on creating additional products from green bananas.
“We only use it one way in Barbados – that is, to cook – but you can do a lot . . . . You can do green banana ice cream, you have the porridge, you could bake with it, you could do a lot more products with the green banana, so that’s what I’m working on right now,” she said.
She added that, like cassava flour, green banana flour offers a healthier alternative to wheat flour.
“The green banana is high in fibre, magnesium and potassium, so it keeps us full,” she said, adding that only a bit of the flour should be used in cooking because of its high starch content.
Ifill promotes her products at various events, including the Diaspora conference which was held in August, and she is hoping to see them on supermarket shelves soon.
Ifill’s green banana flour and pasta is also being promoted overseas. In May this year, they were showcased at the Green Festival in Washington DC, and they were also on display at the Caribbean Week of Agriculture held in the Cayman Islands last week.
Ifill is currently juggling her new business venture with her full-time job at the Communications Unit of the Ministry of Agriculture, as well as caring for her five-month-old son.
She is looking forward to increased interest in her products as people pay more attention to healthy eating.