Developments to improve performance

Ecuador: Planting bananas in double rows

Many banana producers in the country continue to eliminate the plant once they harvest it, but not at the Planada estate in Valencia (Los Rios). There, producers just cut its leaves and leave the plant so that it provides its child, or sapling, the nutrients it has left. It is the "vela" method, and it is not the only new thing that is being done in that area to get a better performance in a market where producers that have a better productivity have more chances of surviving or earning more.

These and other agricultural and post-harvest practices on large haciendas allow producers to produce 4,400 to 4,600 boxes per hectare, while the national average stands at 2,500 boxes per hectare. In the area, the banana growers have become daring: they are growing up to 2,100 plants per hectare, 50% of what is planted in a traditional or conventional crop. This is a bold action, according to Kleber Sigüenza, the president of the Chamber of Agriculture of the II Zone and also a banana producer, who does not see it as a feasible feat.

However, Planada technicians are sure they'll reach 6,000 boxes per hectare per year with the utmost care of the plant child. In this system, which has been called the double row system, there can be failures. The objective of the double row system is to have one offspring, as only one must remain. Two offsprings are bad and three are catastrophic, that is why the selection of the offspring and the care that is given to it are key.

The density varies between 2,100 and 1,792 plants per hectare, with enough space between rows for a small tractor with fumigation equipment. There can be 1,350 to 1,400 plants per hectare in a traditional orchard. The results of the Planada hacienda will be known in 10 weeks.

At that time, its productivity and the feasibility of maintaining it permanently will be evaluated. Of course, they are sure that the result will be favorable. Other banana producers have thought about programming in double row to harvest in the high season, when prices get better.

The research of other haciendas take three years. In Valencia and its surroundings, producers are doing novel things in a country where state and multinational research is a myth.

None of them have carried out projects to improve the efficiency of this industry, which is the second biggest generator of currency in the country. In that area of Los Ríos, producers have also developed their own advances; for example they have incorporated an alarm that goes off to an automatic weighing system when a box completes its weight, and injected earthworm leachates into the plant's stems to strengthen them.

Producers also use hooks to harvest the bunches so that the person that harvests the fruit and takes it to the rails, from where it is moved to the packers, doesn't have contact with the fruit. Meanwhile, the packers are using automatic washing techniques in cameras to clean the fruit.

Thus the fruit has a better quality, which causes less waste. Los Ríos is currently the leading Ecuadorian banana province, according to data of the Survey of Surface, Production, and Performance of the National Institute of Statistics and Censuses (INEC).

Another of the innovations that is under study is the use of machines that allow moving the clusters through rails to the packing areas, a task that is currently done by workers in all the countries that produce bananas. What has not changed for the banana sector is the outdated legislation regarding the need and change of markets and the lack of interest of the State in improving the yields of small producers.


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