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Shima banana

Date Posted: 2003-08-02

A former Buddhist priest has taken a new aim in his life by dedicating his energies to popularizing Okinawa’s indigenous banana, locally called “shima banana.” The Okinawan shima banana is smaller in size, and its skin thinner, than regular commercially grown bananas, but the taste is sweeter and it is said to contain more vitamins. It is also selling for two to three times the price of ordinary bananas, which are imported from the Philippines and other countries.

Kanetoku Chinen, a 66-year-old former priest, fell in love with Okinawan bananas five years ago. He then decided to drop out of the priesthood and dedicate his life to cultivating shima bananas. For his venture Chinen, a resident of Makiya in Nago City, found farms whose residents had moved out in search of better life in mainland cities. He rented the abandoned farms and set out to study the banana. His first discovery was to determine which insects and pests were a threat to banana, and then figure out the right pesticides to fight them.

Perhaps the biggest threats to shima banana are typhoons. The solution was to use the pipe skeleton of an ordinary green house. The banana stalks would be suspended from the roof pipes of the house that would support the heavy bundles of bananas hanging from the stalks.

A single Okinawan banana stalk carries 50 to 100 fruits that weigh 20 to 30 kilograms. Since the pipe skeleton of a green house supports the stalks, they are able to withstand even the strongest of winds. Chinen says that none of his banana stalks collapsed even during last year’s strong typhoons.

Chinen’s success with his bananas has also caught the attention of his farmer neighbors, who are increasingly planting bananas instead of other crops. Chinen believes that with the right marketing effort, the Okinawan banana could become a prime cash crop for northern Okinawa and help revitalize the local economy.

When Chinen started his own farm five years ago, he had only ten stalks planted. Now he has more than 300. He is selling his product through local farmers’ markets and is in the process of setting up an on-line sales outlet. “I could not imagine a better way of making a living and enjoying while doing it,” Chinen says.

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