Bananas. Most of us eat them on a regular basis. But do we take the time to learn where they come from? Who grows them and under what conditions? Are they grown with care for the environment and the health of workers and consumers? Who profits from their sale?
I lived in Costa Rica once in a small village on a river in an area dominated by banana plantations. Men came from all over the country to work on the plantations. They lived in small cement dorms under the baking sun on plantations devoid of trees… just rows and rows of banana trees. The sickly sweet smell of the pesticides was constantly in the air, the discarded plastic bags used to cover the bananas on the trees to keep the insects away, floated down the rivers. Villagers, who mainly got around by canoe and small boats, learned to paddle around the bags and other trash that floated downriver from the plantations. Fridays was payday and the parents made sure their daughters stayed close to home as the men who lived on the plantations, far from their families, passed the time away in bars. Drugs and prostitution were rampant and the violence rate was high. When fish began washing up on the shore, the government quarantined the village and eventually made the residents leave. The toxicity level in the rivers was so high from the heavy pesticide use on the plantations up-river that it was no longer safe for the village residents.
Pesticides and poor working conditions have long been associated with banana plantations. Unabashed interference in the political and economic landscapes of developing countries certainly characterize the history of banana companies throughout the developing world. It’s not an uplifting story.
Did you know that just five companies control the majority of the world’s bananas?
That would be: Dole, Chiquita, DelMonte, Fyffes and Noboa/Bonita.
Equal Exchange has long been involved in trying to change the way trade is conducted in the coffee, tea and chocolate industries. As a part owner of Oke USA Fair Trade bananas, we now think it’s time to take on the banana industry. That means changing the way trade is conducted as well as educating consumers about the nature of the industry we are unwittingly supporting.
So, in an effort to begin to inform and educate ourselves and U.S. consumers about the nature of this fruit, which according to the USDA, the average American eats 26 pounds of bananas per year, we’re going to start writing a series of posts on bananas, the growers, and the industry in general.
Late last year, Nick Reid wrote an essay entitled, The Next Frontier. Start with that one and keep reading.