It took the persuasion of her clan elders for Rev Dr Florence Muranga to abandon her dreams of becoming a lawyer – and the decision has borne fruit as she is today one of the most celebrated food technologists in Uganda.
“My family wanted me to be a medical doctor. Although I was an all-rounder in school, I came into the sciences reluctantly because I had a phobia for maths and biology,” Rev Dr Muranga said.
Determined to study chemistry, her favourite subject, she persuaded Makerere University administration to allow her to pursue a degree in chemistry and biochemistry rather than one in education.
When she graduated in 1975, she had to fulfil President Idi Amin’s decree of government–sponsored graduates serving the nation for five years. Her first job was at Wanyange Girls’ School in Jinja as a biology and chemistry teacher.
Years later, Dr Muranga is famous for turning matooke (banana) into shelf-stable flours in Uganda, not only helping in the fight against hunger but also saving millions of tonnes of the crop from going to waste.
Rev Dr Muranga says she set out to use her PhD research findings in the mid-1990s because she wanted to help farmers compete in the market through a science-led approach.
She made the breakthrough with the shelf-stable matooke flours in her PhD thesis titled “Composition and physicochemical characteristics of starches of different banana varieties.”
“My real achievement will be when I see farming communities successfully add value to matooke and compete in the market. This will be an achievement for science. Tooke flour is my gift to the womenfolk in my country. Our main job is to prepare matooke for the family.”
She is a research team leader and founding director of the Presidential Initiative on Banana Industrial Development, whose main mission is to offer services, outreach and research and development opportunities to farmers focusing on sustainable banana productivity, as well as business and process development.
Her team has harnessed the output of research, branding the banana flour Tooke.
The team is in the process of developing different Tooke brand lines: Tooke — Instant Tooke Flour (for food), Raw Tooke Flour (for confectionary and baking bread, biscuits and cakes) and Tooke Flakes.
Dr Muranga has won several awards in Africa. She is the pioneer winner of the Presidential Scientific Innovation Excellence Award for the 2005/06 Presidential Science Award cycle for her outstanding achievements in pioneering work in utilising matooke as a principal raw material in the food processing industry and promoting its commercialisation.
She was recognised among the top women in 2006 by the Management Forum of the British Council, Uganda.
“I find scientific innovation very inspiring and original because I feel a partnership with God in creation… we work on where he stopped,” she says.
Asked whether there is a conflict between her religious beliefs and scientific research, she argued: “I am a fundamentalist and a believer in the Bible as God’s divine word. Besides, the Bible reveals some scientific proofs that man is just unravelling.”
“My lamentation is that the most productive year for research (25-35) are when most women are absorbed in family affairs. Nonetheless, women have a lot of opportunities. For any serious woman, the sky is the limit.”
Dr Muranga is an assistant chaplain at St. Francis Chapel, Makerere University, as well as a lecturer at the Department of Food Technology and Nutrition in Makerere University.
She has vast experience as a nutritional consultant, a trainer and researcher at various institutions.