Challenges in and Fair Trade solutions for the banana industry
“Bananas are the bestselling fruit in the world. They don’t need advertising, everybody wants them. As cheap as possible.” This sentence is the first thing one sees when entering storyofbanana.com, a website set up by , the Ecumenical Academy (Czech Republic) jointly with 19 partners as part of the Make Fruit Fair Campaign. This very interesting website enables one to really assess the impact in the South of purchasing cheap bananas in European supermarkets. Along with a counter comparing the amount of money earned by Lidl and by Miguel, a plantation worker, while one browses the website, one comes across several testimonies of banana producers on their daily life.
The Story of the banana also emphasizes on the environmental impact of the banana production, banana being the second most chemically intensive crop grown after cotton. Thus, the banana workers are affected.
Indeed, an epidemiological study realized by SüdWind among the banana workers from Ecuador and based on a questionnaire survey has been released and presents concerning results regarding the effects of pesticides on human health.
71 workers from five different locations in Ecuador, the world’s largest exporter of bananas, volunteered for taking a medical survey on their self-reported symptoms as well as exposure indicators. 34 pesticides-exposed and 37 non-pesticides-exposed male workers participated.
The results showed that farmers involved in organic farming had less symptoms presented by the conventional farmers (vomiting, skin irritation, burning eyes, insomnia). Moreover, the exposed group had a 6 – 8-fold increased risk for reporting gastrointestinal symptoms (in the last 6 month) than the control group who did not use pesticides. After taking swabs of workers’ buccal mucosae, nuclear anomalies were found, showing a carcinogenic potential.
What is also striking, is that most of the farmers do not know what pesticides they apply and use only minimal protection, mostly because the protective clothing is not provided by the employers.
In order to help consumers, an article extracted from Ethical Consumer Magazine highlights several problems reported in the banana industry. First, the article reveals that none of the largest companies in the banana industry scored best or even middle in the magazine’s key social and environmental reporting ratings. For instance, several companies including Del Monte, Dole and Chiquita have been accused of funding paramilitary organisations in the northern banana-producing region of Uraba, Colombia. Another flaw of the banana production is its impact on environment as the majority of the production is concentrated on one variety, the Cavendish, which makes the plants very susceptible to diseases, which are fought against with pesticides.
Ethical Consumer Magazine has also released an explanatory video on the banana industry and gives pieces of advice on where to buy the most ethical bananas and which label to trust. Fairtrade certified EkoOke bananas have a very good rating as well as Fairtrade bananas retailers (Sainsbury’s, Co-op and Waitrose).
Amidst all the challenges the banana industry comprises also several success stories thanks to Fair Trade. Fairtrade Poland recently released a case study focusing on an Ecuadorian cooperative, ASOGUABO, producing bananas. The plantation sells over 1 million boxes of bananas per year and all of them are Fairtrade certified. When a buyer pays 9$ for a box of bananas, 6$ goes directly to the producer, which encourages them to continue to apply the standards. This cooperative, which has the ambition to “change the banana market”, is a success story as ASOGUABO bananas are sold in Europe, Canada, New Zealand, the United States and are used to produce Ben&Jerry’s famous ice cream.
Among the 600 banana workers at ASOGUABO, this study chose to bring to light 5 testimonies from the producers to highlight the importance that the Fairtrade certification has had on the empowerment of these workers, in particular concerning the way the premium is spent in the community.