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World Banana Forum discusses threats from TR4
Last week, Geneva was the banana capital of the world. Although not a single banana is grown in Switzerland, this city was home to the third World Banana Forum. The FAO's consultative body discussed current topics, including labour rights and social responsibility, the effects of climate change, and the threat posed by TR4 in the sector. The first two topics were on the agenda for Wednesday, last week.
The 'race to the bottom', which is a price technique used by retail sectors in several countries, is contributing to "the dark period" the sector finds itself in. This is according to Renwick Rose, Chairman of the World Banana Forum's Executive Board. He argued that the intensive competition around pricing does not benefit anyone in the sector. "We would be better off with an ambitious global agenda."
Renwick listed the challenges facing the of the sector that were reiterated throughout the length of the congress. One of these was "Women's inequality in the labour market, which is in the media worldwide." This is also an issue in the banana sector. He then, directly, introduced this as the first theme, including it in a broader scope. The position of plantation workers, with the emphasis on women, is an area of keen interest for various organisations.
"The vast majority of impoverished people work in agriculture", added Deborah Greenfield, from ILO. She emphasised that these very poor people do have jobs, but are still considered poverty-stricken.
In addition to the social agenda, climate change poses a challenge. Weather patterns like the "extraordinary chain of hurricanes" that ravaged Central America and the Caribbean, and the floods that caused massive damage in South and Central America, are part of this challenge.
A last challenge that enjoyed special attention was the TR4 threat. Dominique Kohli, the Swiss Minister of Agriculture, called it "a sword of Damocles looming over the entire sector." This fungus threatens not only banana exports, which are valued at $20 billion worldwide. The banana, which is the most exported fruit in the world, is also a basic food source for millions of people on earth. "Where I come from, bananas are an important food supplement. It is already given to babies from when they are six months old", says Deborah.
The fear of this fungus in the sector is highlighted by it's choice of Geneva as a venue for the World Banana Forum. This city was not chosen because Chiquita Europe's head office is half an hour's drive away. It was chosen because none of the countries where bananas are grown wanted to organise this forum, for fear of this dreaded fungus spreading in its wake. It was not the first time a congress about bananas was held outside of a banana-producing country over fears of TR4 being spread.
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