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Enset (Ensete ventricosum) leaves


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Common names 

Enset, ensete, Ethiopian banana, Abyssinian banana, false banana [English]; bananier d'Abyssinie [French]; Zierbanane, Abessinische Banane [German]; Bananero de Etiopía, Bananero de Abisinia, falsa banana, ensete, banana grueso [Spanish]; etipisk banan [Swedish]; bananeira-da-abissínia, bananeira-de-jardim [Portuguese]; Wildepiesang [Afrikaans]; ikijombo, igitembetembe, intembe [Kinyarwanda]; ikigomogomo [Kirundi]; cirembo [Mashi]; ikyombo, butembe [Lega]; mukobo [Meru,Kenya]; kilankuma [Umubumbu]; ትርጉም [Amharic]

Feed categories 

Enset (Ensete ventricosum (Welw.) Cheesman) is a tall herbaceous plant from Eastern tropical Africa related to the banana. Enset is grown in Ethiopia for its starch-rich basal pseudostems and their swollen underground parts, called corms. These are an important staple food for the inhabitants of South and South-West Ethiopia. Enset leaves are an important crop residue left after harvesting of the corms and pseudostems. They can also be cut on demand when need arises without hampering plant growth. Due to their availability and relatively high nutritive value, enset leaves are widely used in enset-producing regions to feed livestock (Fekadu, 2009). However, the sustainability of enset farming systems is currently endangered by the bacterial wilt disease, putting the future of this crop in question. Enset also grows in many tropical countries and enset leaves appear to be an underexploited feed resource.


Enset, also called false banana, is a close relative of the banana tree (Musa sp.) and morphologically similar. Both are large herbaceous and monocarpic plants that flower only once and then die. The enset plant is taller and thicker than the banana plant, and its fruits are inedible (Tsegaye et al., 1992). Enset is a perennial plant that reaches a height of 4-11 m. Its root system is adventitious. The trunk (pseudostem) is made of overlapping leaf sheaths. The underground and basal swollen part of these leaf sheaths forms the corms. The corms are 0.7-1.8 m long and 1.5-2.5 m in diameter at maturity (Tsegaye et al., 1992). The leaves are spirally arranged, emerging from the apex of the corms. Leaf blades are entire, 5 m long x 1.5 m broad, with a strongly channelled midrib and numerous lateral veins. The leaves are bright to dark green in colour (Tsegaye et al., 1992). Enset leaves represent about 15% of the total DM of the plant (Fekadu et al., 1997). The inflorescence grows at the apex and droops out of the centre of the pseudostem. Flowers are unisexual, very similar to those of the banana (Musa sativa): female flowers develop proximally, male flowers developing at the distal end of the inflorescence. The fruits are oblong-obovoid berries, 8-15 cm x 3-4.5 cm, orange when mature, rather dry and fibrous. The berries contain 1 to 10 large (1.5-2.5 cm in diameter), black seeds (Tsegaye et al., 1992).


While enset corms and pseudostems are mainly used as a staple food in Ethiopia, fresh enset leaves are widely used to feed livestock in enset-based systems, either in a cut-and-carry system or as a crop residue (Fekadu, 2009). Due to the drought tolerance of enset, fresh leaves are a common fodder when other fodder is scarce during the dry season, which can extend for several months. They are especially fed to lactating cows at this time (Fekadu, 2009; Mohammed et al., 2013). Enset leaves are of better nutritive value than most crop residues (Yilma Tsegaye, 2001). Enset leaves are the major livestock forage in the coffee-enset area of South-Western and Southern Ethiopia. Not only the leaf laminas but also the upper part of the leaf sheaths and the core of the central shoot are used as fodder (Yilma Tsegaye, 2001). In the Bale Highlands in South-Eastern Ethiopia in the late 1990s-early 2000s, several enset-based systems were coexisting: livestock-enset, enset-livestock and enset-livestock-cereals. In these systems, livestock provided manure to the enset crop while enset provided crop residues to livestock. About 85% of the farmers fed enset leaves, corms, pseudostems, fluid (moccaa) and processed by-products (raw kocho) to livestock during the dry season. The enset leaves, corms and sheaths were pruned and chopped. However, supplementation with enset products did not significantly reduce cattle mortality. Enset crop residues are consumed soon after harvest and not saved for the drier period, unlike pastures, which are preserved through being enclosured and do have a significant effect on livestock survival. Enset leaves and by-products could better contribute to alleviating dry-season feed shortages, however more farmer awareness regarding preparation is needed, as well as better technology to improve the value of enset leaves and by-products as feed supplements (Desta et al., 2004).


Enset is native to Ethiopia where it was first domesticated 6000 years BCE. Ethiopia is the only country where enset cultivation is economically important. It is mainly located in the Southern Highlands, and it also grows in the Central and Northern Highlands around Lake Tana, the Semien Mountains, and as far north as Adigrat and into Southern Eritrea (Brandt et al., 1997). Beyond Ethiopia, enset is reported to have provided an emergency food in Vietnam during the Second World War (Tsegaye et al., 1992). Enset grows naturally throughout tropical Africa, southward from Ethiopia to South Africa and westward from Ethiopia to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It occurs in montane and riverine forests, often in clearings, gullies and near streams. In Ethiopia, it can be found within an altitude of (500 m-) 1000-1600 m (-2400) m (Tsegaye et al., 1992). In cultivation, enset grows best between 1800 m and 2450 m but scattered plants can be found at lower altitudes, and growth remains possible at up to 3100 m altitude. At higher elevations, low temperature and frost hamper growth, and maturation may take twice as long, or more, than in lower regions. Temperatures about 16-20°C are optimal, but growth is possible from 5 to 25°C. An average annual rainfall of 1100-1500 mm is recommended for optimal growth. Established enset plants are tolerant of drought and frost. Enset grows well in most fertile and well-drained soils. Best growth is obtained in moderately acidic to alkaline soils (pH 5.6-7.3) with 2-3% organic matter (Tsegaye et al., 1992).

In Ethiopia, food security was better in enset-based than in cereal-based farming systems (Ecocrop, 2016). In 1992, Ethiopian statistics indicated that there were 167,900 ha of enset (Tsegaye et al., 1992). However, because enset is being increasingly affected by a bacterial wilt (Xanthomonas campestris), corm production is declining, thus threatening food security (Deribe Gemiyo Talore, 2015).

Forage management 

Enset can be propagated by seeds or by suckers. It can be grown in monocropping or intercropping systems in association with cereal crops or legumes. Enset requires good weeding during the first stages of growth and it responds positively to manuring from animal or household sewage. Some pruning should be done annually, until the plant reaches sufficient maturity to be harvested (about 3-4 years or 9-14 years after planting, but it can be harvested at any time after 2 years) (Kassa et al., 1993; Tsegaye et al., 1992). Harvest should occur during the period surrounding the appearance of the inflorescence (Tsegaye et al., 1992). While the harvest of corms and pseudostems destroys the plant, the harvesting of leaves can be done whenever it is necessary without compromising corm production (Tsegaye et al., 1992).

Environmental impact 

Soil erosion control, soil improver and mulch

Enset is a soil improving crop. As a perennial crop, it does not require tilling and its extensive plant canopy intercepts rainfall: erosion is thus limited. The deep roots increase water infiltration and decrease surface runoff, resulting in more water both in the soil and aquifers. Water volume, availability and duration of discharge to springs are enhanced, thus decreasing the effective length of the dry season (Brandt et al., 1997). In addition, enset culture builds soil organic matter and soil fertility. After corm and pseudostem harvest, enset leaves can be used for mulching thereby enhancing organic matter and soil protection. It has been reported that enset enhances soil fertility to a level greater than those of adjacent fields or pastures (Shank et al., 1996).

Coffee-enset-livestock for sustainable intensification

In the Sidama Midlands, where the cultivation of coffee as a cash crop dramatically reduces grasslands, enset provides valuable crop residues that can be used to feed ruminants, and also provides shade to the coffee plants (Yilma Tsegaye, 2001).

Nutritional aspects
Nutritional attributes 

Enset leaves have a very low DM content, usually less than 15%, which may limit dry matter intake but makes them a good source of water for the dry season, which is when they are mainly used. The protein content is rather good for a crop residue, averaging 13-14% of DM, ranging from 8 to 23% of DM (Fekadu, 2009). The lamina part of the leaf is richer in protein (more than 15% DM) than the midrib (less than 13% DM) (Fekadu et al., 1997). The protein content also depends on variety, but it is not influenced by either irrigation or drought conditions, which makes the leaves a useful forage for the dry season (Talema et al., 2014). The fibre content is quite high, but its variability as reported by different authors is very large: NDF ranges from 33% to more than 70% of DM and ADF ranges from 29 to 43% of DM. The lignin content is rather low (less than 8% of DM). Enset leaves are rich in mineral content (6-19% of DM). Calcium content is high but variable according to the variety and probably the location (4 to 24 g/kg DM). Phosphorus and magnesium range from 1.2 to 3.9 g/kg DM and from 1.2 to 5.6 g/kg DM, respectively. Zinc and manganese contents are high, and more or less meet requirements for ruminants, particularly at maintenance. However, average values of phosphorus (2.4 g/kg DM), magnesium (2.5 g/kg DM) and copper (3 mg/kg DM) are low.

Potential constraints 

There are no known constraints in feeding enset forage (2016).


Enset leaves are widely fed to ruminants in Ethiopia, particularly during the dry season. Based on the chemical composition and in vivo studies presented below, enset leaves appear to be a valuable forage with a good protein and mineral content. It can be used as a supplement for diets containing low quality roughages (e.g. straw, mature hay or pasture). An energy supplement is advisable.

Note: The author thanks the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences Library for providing freely some useful documents.


No palatability issues have been reported with enset leaves. However, some farmers in Ethiopian enset-livestock systems treat enset leaves with a mineral lick (bojii) to increase palatability (Desta et al., 2004).

Digestibility and degradability

Reported in vitro OM digestibility of enset leaves ranges from 56 to 75%. The reason for the large difference between studies is unclear (Mohammed et al., 2013; Nurfeta et al., 2012). In one study, in vivo DM and OM digestibilities in sheep were 59%, and the in vitro protein digestibility was 64% (Nurfeta et al., 2009a). Furthermore, in sacco DM disappearance was lower in sheep than in steers (about 60% vs. 75% after 48h respectively), as shown in the table below (Nurfeta et al., 2008a).

In sacco DMD of enset leaves in steers and sheep


The treatment of enset leaves with 2% urea solution had no effect on their DM intake (76 g/kg W0.75) in Zebu cows (Fekadu et al., 1997).


When offered alone to sheep at maintenance level, DM intake of enset leaves was 42.6 g/kg W0.75, and the nitrogen balance was positive with 6.1 g of nitrogen/d (Nurfeta et al., 2009b). Increasing levels of enset leaves (215, 417, 514 g DM/d) offered to sheep (20 kg BW), fed ad libitum wheat straw, reduced intake of straw, either untreated or treated with urea-CaO. At the lower level of enset leaves, sheep consumed almost all the leaves but at the two higher levels the DM intake of leaves reached a plateau with 283 and 312 g DM/d with treated and untreated straw, respectively. There was no weight gain with the lowest level of supplement and a small weight gain at the two higher levels: 14.8 and 24.3 g/d, respectively. Results tended to be better with untreated than with treated wheat straw, with an average weight gain of 14.9 and 9.7 g/d respectively (Nurfeta et al., 2009a).


When enset leaves were offered at three levels (74, 148 or 220 g DM/d) as a supplement to dairy goats grazing natural pasture, the goats consumed all the offered leaves. Milk yield and fat content increased up to the first supplement level compared to the control diet (grazing only): 0.59 vs. 0.37 L/d and 54 vs. 42 g/L, respectively. Milk protein significantly increased with the two higher levels of supplement. However, with the highest level the weight gain of the does was lower (94 g/d). The daily weight gain of kids from the supplemented does was improved (90-99 vs. 79 g/d) at all levels of enset leaves (Nurfeta et al., 2012).


No information is available in the international literature (October 2016) on the utilisation of enset leaves in rabbit feeding. However, since this forage is used extensively for ruminants, enset leaves could probably be safely used in rabbit feeding in the same manner as banana leaves, i.e. as supplement to a concentrate (Lebas, 2007). The high proportion of highly digestible fibres (21-25% hemicellulose), associated with only 3-4% lignin, is a reason to use this forage in moderate proportion in the diet and not as main source of fibre, to avoid the risk of digestive troubles (Gidenne, 2015). The main attribute of enset leaves is the availability as green forage throughout the year (Msola, 2007). However, some experiments on the actual use of enset leaves as forage for rabbit would be welcome.

Nutritional tables
Tables of chemical composition and nutritional value 

Avg: average or predicted value; SD: standard deviation; Min: minimum value; Max: maximum value; Nb: number of values (samples) used

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Dry matter % as fed 12.6 2.9 10.1 16.7 4  
Crude protein % DM 14.1 1.7 12.3 17.5 9  
Crude fibre % DM 22.3   20.4 24.1 2  
NDF % DM 56.8 13.4 34.0 70.3 9  
ADF % DM 36.6 5.4 29.2 42.7 9  
Lignin % DM 6.9 2.3 3.3 8.8 7  
Ether extract % DM 4.2 1.5 2.5 5.2 3  
Ash % DM 14.6 4.4 6.3 19.0 7  
Starch (polarimetry) % DM 1.8   1.2 2.5 2  
Total sugars % DM 9.8   8.4 11.1 2  
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 17.3         *
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Calcium g/kg DM 12.3 4.8 8.3 21.8 6  
Phosphorus g/kg DM 2.4 0.7 1.8 3.9 6  
Potassium g/kg DM 36.9 5.4 30.8 41.0 3  
Sodium g/kg DM 0.7   0.2 1.1 2  
Magnesium g/kg DM 2.9 0.6 2.2 3.8 6  
Manganese mg/kg DM 169 39 124 194 3  
Zinc mg/kg DM 32 30 11 67 3  
Copper mg/kg DM 3 1 2 3 3  
Ruminant nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
OM digestibility, ruminants % 59.4       1  
Energy digestibility, ruminants % 58.4         *
DE ruminants MJ/kg DM 10.1         *
ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 8.1         *
Nitrogen digestibility, ruminants % 63.6       1  
Pig nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Energy digestibility, growing pig % 47.0         *
DE growing pig MJ/kg DM 8.1         *
MEn growing pig MJ/kg DM 7.4         *
NE growing pig MJ/kg DM 4.5         *

The asterisk * indicates that the average value was obtained by an equation.


Deribe Gemiyo Talore, 2015; Fekadu, 2009; Mohammed et al., 2013; Nurfeta et al., 2009; Nurfeta et al., 2012

Last updated on 05/10/2016 22:39:35

Datasheet citation 

Heuzé V., Thiollet H., Tran G., Hassoun P., Lebas F., 2016. Enset (Ensete ventricosum) leaves. Feedipedia, a programme by INRA, CIRAD, AFZ and FAO. http://www.feedipedia.org/node/21254 Last updated on December 19, 2016, 15:08

English correction by Tim Smith (Animal Science consultant)
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