The VII International Banana Congress was held in Miami a few days ago. The National Banana Corporation, Corbana, under whose leadership the Congress has positioned itself as the most important in the world for the sector, organized the event.
The event has been successful because it includes participants from all the value chain -production and sale- of the fruit. It is attended by almost 600 people from 40 countries, including government officials, scientists, businessmen, suppliers, and buyers that get together for three days to partake in lectures, workshops, and exhibition areas of very diverse projects and technologies relevant to the activity. The Congress is held outside the country, in locations located in territories that do not produce fruit, for safety reasons and the phytosanitary protection of Costa Rica's crops.
140 years of experience
The banana sector has been the spearhead and catapult for Costa Rican foreign trade. Costa Rica's exports have gradually evolved since its first registered export of fresh fruit to New York, in February 1880. Nowadays, Costa Rica is one of the global leaders in the activity; in volume, quality and productivity.
The scale and characteristics of the banana sector's transport logistics benefits the rest of the national exporters that use the seaway, as they can access more competitive prices, have higher frequencies, and destinations. The banana sector exported 121 million boxes of fruit in 2016. It accounts for 38.6% of the national agricultural production; directly and indirectly employs almost 12% of the economically active population (especially in the most vulnerable rural areas that have few job options); and it's responsible for 36.7% of the total agricultural exports value, a figure that in 2016 amounted to $ 998 million.
Challenges and risks
Like all productive activities, the banana industry faces challenges and risks. Attracted by the long-term results of the banana market, several countries implement dynamic public policies to increase their productivity and planting areas in Central and South America, tropical Africa, and Asia.
In 2019 the Banana Stabilization Mechanism, which delimits the tariff preference that Costa Rican bananas have on the European market, the most lucrative and desired market, will expire. In addition, and almost coincidentally, the United Kingdom is expected to leave the European Union that same year. As a result, the sector expects to have harder commercial challenges that require the attention of both the sector and the authorities.
In parallel, the sector co-exists with phytosanitary risks, both of known diseases and of a highly destructive mite that is resistant to the molecules available to attack it, which is still not present in American plantations, but whose threat is huge, and whose expansion in other regions of the world already causes massive losses that Costa Rica is determined to avoid.
The sector will face the commercial and phytosanitary challenges with creativity, unity, and innovation. The sector's accumulated knowledge and experience, the public-private model with which it operates, and its capacity to transform are the key elements to move forward.
I am convinced that the most difficult thing to manage, for this sector and the rest of our productive sectors, is transformation and associated risks. The diversity of challenges and opportunities to manage its speed, complexity, nature, and implications deserve great attention and dedication.
The banana sector must adapt and take advantage of automation and robotics in production and marketing; mobile and digital technologies and their broad potential; electronic commerce and changes in the sector's business model; biotechnologies and their impact on the varieties' resistance and adaptability to climate change; the imperative to add much more value in a circular economy logic -appropriation of all organic material generated-; or the new technology packages available to increase productivity.