By Ebi Kesiena
Tonto, a cultural icon in Uganda, celebrated in folk songs and embraced by a diverse range of enthusiasts, is facing challenges to its production.
With the growing popularity of affordable bottled beer and concerns over the health risks associated with illicit home brews, authorities are moving to regulate the production of this beloved beverage.
The production of tonto occurs outside official oversight, preventing authorities from collecting revenue from its sale. A proposed bill in the national assembly aims to regulate the production and sale of alcohol, criminalizing the activities of home brewers of tonto and other traditional brews in the East African country.
However, the issue extends beyond regulation. Farmers are troubled by the insufficient planting of new banana juice cultivars essential for tonto production. Communities are prioritizing commercially viable banana varieties used for boiling and consumption as a popular dish called matooke.
In the western district of Mbarara, farmer Girino Ndyanabo, who has cherished tonto since his childhood in the 1970s, faces dwindling banana juice cultivars. He sources bananas from nearby farmers, allowing natural underground heat to ripen them in a pit on his plantation for the weekly pressing.
Despite the challenges, Ndyanabo’s family views the tonto tradition as indispensable. The brew, weaker than bottled beer, features a fruity aroma with bits of sorghum floating on its dark surface.
For customers like Benson Muhereza, an electrician in Mbarara, tonto is a preferred alternative to beer, described as a non-hangover-inducing “porridge” that complements lunch.
However, Christine Kyomuhangi, a tonto seller, acknowledges the threats to her business but remains optimistic about its sustainability, receiving two jerricans of brew daily.