It provides the staple food of 18% of the population of Ethiopia.
Several foods are derived from it, which are important in the cooking of the Gurages and the Sidama groups of people. Other groups such as Hadya, Gamo, Wolayita, use the plant too, but less. Development workers have noted that famine hits less often, and less severely, in areas where the plant is cultivated, and attribute that partly to the plant being a reliable food source.
The plant is low in protein; it is basically a carbohydrate source, but a dependable one.
The Enset looks like a banana plant with larger leaves. It does belong to the same broad family as banana, “Musaceae.”
It grows up to 10 yards (10 metres) tall, with a single stem up to 1 yard (1 metre) wide. Most of that stem is called a “pseudo stem”, because its made up of tight sheaths of leaves. The plant needs 4 to 6 years to reach maturity, so planting is staggered, to time when they are ready for harvest so that every year you will have a few that are ready. Men do the planting and harvesting of the plants; women do the processing into food.
Its large above-ground stem grows out of a large starchy “corm” that grows underground. If the plant were allowed to flower when it reached maturity, it would use up all its starch, then die, so it is harvested just before it flowers. Fruit from it is not edible, anyway.
Starchy material is harvested from the stem, pseudo stem, and corm.
The corm is treated as a potato, and cooked by boiling. It is called “amicho.”
The starchy material that comes out of the leaf sheaths is called “kocho.” It is fermented into a starchy dough, and used to make bread of the same name.
The pulp of the leftover stem and leaf sheaths is squeezed for its juice. This can be made into a drink called “bulla”, aka “atmit” or used for a porridge or other dishes, or evaporated to leave behind a white powder that can be stored.
Enset has been cultivated possibly since at least 3,000 BC; some say 8,000 BC.
There is a wild variety still in the sub Saharan areas.
UNITED NATIONS DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMME. Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia . A Linear Model for Predicting Enset.The Sidama Concern. 2008