Growing plantains in Guyana History
Guyana Chronicle
December 3, 2006

Related Links: Articles on history
Letters Menu Archival Menu

Traditionally plantains have been an important component in the diet of Guyanese. The exact date plantain cultivation commenced in Guyana is not definite but it was activity carried out by slaves on their provision ground (Payne 1982). Plantain formed an important part of the diet of slaves. Indeed, Dr. John Shier, the Agricultural Chemist of the Colony during the 1840's in his writing on plantain meals stated 'It is largely employed din food of infants, children and invalids. As for children and convalescents, it would probably be much esteemed in Europe, and deserved a trial on account of its fragrance and it being extremely to digest……In respect of nutritive ness, it deserves a preference over all the pure starches on account of the protein compound it contains. Dr shier went to suggest the feasibility of attempting to export 'plantain meal' from the Colony to Europe.

Emancipation fostered the increased cultivation of plantain as a basic food supply item among freed slaves and provided a means of earning a living. By 1843, some 'freehold settlements' between Annandale and Plaisance alone had 720 acres under cultivation of plantain. By 1850's the Colony was exporting plantains to the neighbouring Islands. Expansion of the cultivation posed a direct threat to the Plantocracy's monopoly of land, labour and capital. The growth of this 'peasant economy' had to be suppresses by the Plantocracy.

In the 1850's the Peter Rose Commission was symptomatic of the general intent of the Plantocracy to ensure that all activities conducted in the Colony were complementary to the success and growth of the sugar economy. Thereafter, the Planters attack on the 'peasant economy extended to efforts to ensure that 'provision' farmers could not market their produce profitably. Indeed, water from the East Demerara Conservancy was withheld in an effort to destroy crops. Trade sanctions were imposed that led to the emergence of the Portuguese merchant class and the subsequent exploitation of the freed slaves that led to the 'Angel Gabriel Riots' in 1856.

The stagnation of the village economy led eventually to the shunning of peasant farming on large scale by villagers for the dependent 'job occupation' as a means of livelihood.

During World Wars 1 &2 the cultivation of plantains expanded briefly as food supplies from the 'Mother Country' dried up but only to be suppressed when Britain could once again ship food items to the Colony. Plantain never the less, remained a staple in some villages but was generally replaced by rice as the national staple.

The importance of plantain cultivation in our national drive to maintain national self sufficiency in the 1960's onwards. Today, it has been recognized as one of the main crop in the national diversification plan and an excellent export crop.

In Guyana, there are several varieties of plantains grown but farmers as well as consumers show a definite preference for the 'Creole plantain'. It is well adapted sturdy plant grown on the Coastal Plains and on the Levees ob the lower reaches of the rivers. It is used basically as foods in a variety of preparations. The mature but green fruit is boiled for immediate consumption or pound into small balls (foo foo) for use in soups. It is also boiled in coconut milk as a component in 'metagee' or it can be thinly sliced and fried into 'plantain chips'. When ripe, the fruit is either boiled or sliced and fried. The mature green fruit can be dried and processed into 'plantain flour' or used in other snack food preparation.

Plantains originated from South- East Asia where it remains fairly important. It has become an important staple in many African countries. In Central and South America, it is produced both for consumption and export. Plantains are a major sub group of the cultivated banana (Musa spp). It is a cross between Musa acuminate and Musa balbisiana. This cross produced three different types:-

Type A: Contains a low starch and high sugar content when ripe. This is known as banana.

Type B: Is the true plantain which is starchy even when ripe and is only eaten when cooked. It differs in shape from banana in that it carries a pointed tip where as that of banana is blunt.

Type C: Is a starchy banana used for cooking. It is known as cooking bananas.

Varieties of Plantain
In Guyana the main varieties of plantain cultivated are: 'Horse', 'Creole' and 'horn'. The following are descriptive features of the various types:

* Medium French a/k 'Creole' Plantain - This variety achieves a height of about 2.5 m (8 ft) and a circumference of 60 cm (2ft). It produces between 30 - 38 leaves before fruiting and takes 12 months to produce a mature bunch. The bunch carries as many as 5-8 hands and weigh between 11-12 kg (25 - 50 lbs). It produces many shoots.

* False Horn a/k 'Horse' Plantain - This variety Is distinguished by the small number of hands, usually with few fingers on a bunch that weighs about 10 kg (20 lbs). It is similar to the Medium French Plantain and produces many suckers.

* True Horn a/k 'Horse' Plantain - This variety usually has between one and three hands. The fingers are few in numbers, seldom as much as ten. These are longer and stouter than those of the False Horn. It is less important to the farmers because it is not prolific as the other varieties.

* Giant French a/k 'Giant' Plantain - The variety, as the name implies, is robust and tall. It has a girth of around 70 - 75 cm (2- 2.5 ft) and an average height of about 5 m (15 ft). The bunch is very large weighing as much as 90 kg (200 lbs) with many hands ad short fingers. This variety produces more than forty leaves prior to flowering and takes as much as fifteen to eighteen months to produce a mature bunch. It does not produce many suckers from its base but there is often a fine successor.