GEF council members in Brasilia to discuss the programming directions of the Global Biodiversity Framework Fund in June 2023. Image Credit: GEF

Islamabad: The Global Environment Facility (GEF) has approved an innovative initiative aimed at converting waste from bananas into sustainable bio-based textiles.

The project, called “Bananas in Pakistan’s Bioeconomy: Transforming Waste into Textile,” was announced during the 64th GEF council session in Brazil. Pakistan will receive a grant of $3.73 million over six years for the project, which will be led by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

It is estimated that approximately two-thirds of the biomass produced during banana production goes to waste. “This new project in Pakistan aims to turn waste into value-added products, bolstering food security and rural livelihoods while developing alternative, bio-based textiles that require fewer chemicals and are much kinder to the environment,” said Lev Neretin, the FAO leader of Bioeconomy for Sustainable Food and Agriculture programme.

Florence Rolle, the FAO Representative in Pakistan, welcomed the GEF grant and said “Turning non-edible waste from the banana value chain into sustainably produced fabrics is a win-win situation. It extracts more value from the inputs used to produce the banana plants and from banana residues, while at the same time offering extra income opportunities and teaching new skills to rural populations, in particular women.”

Banana fabric

Banana stems have a long history of being used to create textiles, originating in Japan and the Philippines as early as the 13th century. Although their popularity declined with the rise of cotton and silk, banana fiber textiles are experiencing a resurgence in the sustainable fashion industry. Startups worldwide are actively exploring the transformation of food crop waste, including banana peels, into high-value textiles to reduce the use of water-intensive cotton and encourage sustainable and eco-friendly alternatives.

Bioeconomy innovation

This project is part of the GEF’s integrated programme, ‘Eliminating Hazardous Chemicals from Supply Chains,’ which specifically targets the fashion and construction sectors. Its primary objectives are to stimulate innovations in materials, technologies, and practices, create markets and demand for these innovations, and promote the principle of “green by design.”

Rolle added that Pakistan is exemplifying strong leadership in driving sustainable bioeconomy innovation, and the GEF grant “will be a catalyst for more sustainable agrifood system transformation” in the country. Bioeconomy is an economic system that utilises renewable biological resources to produce a range of sustainable goods and services, driving innovation and addressing global challenges.

The project in Pakistan to transform banana waste is one of the 26 FAO-led projects approved by GEF which together will receive $174.7 million in GEF funding and leverage an estimated US$1.2 billion in co-financing. These projects would help accelerate efforts to tackle the climate, biodiversity, and pollution crises.