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Ecuador: Banana producers try to overcome the crisis

In the past three months, more than 300 workers from one of Ubesa's banana farms have accelerated their work in the daily harvest of the Cavendish banana variety.

Despite the decline in exports, last Friday, during a tour, workers seemed optimistic as they engaged in different activities: cutting clusters, manually separating bananas in groups of five to seven, sorting them by size or thickness, and packaging them to send them to different ports.

Bananas that are later sold in over fifty different containers, including those that are later sold to Starbucks, are produced in just over 400 hectares of this firm's plantations, located 35km off the road to El Triunfo. Ubesa exports 10% of the local bananas.

One of the destinations for this and 100 other banana producing and exporting national firms, is Turkey. 16.4 million Ecuadorian banana boxes have entered Turkish ports between January and August this year. Shipments to that country's terminals, such as Istanbul and Samsun, doubled in the first eight months of the year compared with the same period of 2012, according to figures from the Ecuadorian Association of Banana Exporters (AEBE).

Data on Turkey differs from the overall picture of exports. For example, shipments to northern countries of the European Union, the Mediterranean countries, to the Eastern countries and Africa, have declined between January and August. In comparison, exports to destinations such as Oceania and the Middle East have improved. Globally, however, the variation in exports is -3.3 %, according to the Association (see chart).

For Eduardo Ledesma, head of the AEBE, the scenario for the banana sector is complicated. The cost so that a box of bananas from Ecuador reaches international markets is higher than that of its major competitors: Colombia, Costa Rica and Honduras.

Last month, producers needed U.S. $ 7.75 in order to take a box of Ecuadorian bananas to the ports. Additional to this cost producers must pay shipping expenses and a toll, paid by 90% of the Ecuadorian banana boxes, once they cross the Panama Canal in order to reach the Atlantic.

Hence the estimated export price rise to $8.95 per box. Colombia ships its bananas via transatlantic vessels at a cost of $8.35, while Costa Ricans do it at $8 and Hondurans at $8.05. Another disadvantage for the domestic sector are the lower tariffs paid by European importers for Colombian and Central American bananas.

Given this, optimizing processes is vital for banana plantations such as Ubesa. Their representatives indicate that, for the past decade, the industry has become more technical in aspects such as the selection of bananas in circular bands, pesticide controls from the first sheathed cluster, and ground irrigation, among others.


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