Millions of tons of bananas are shipped across the world's oceans. The demand for the yellow fruit is virtually insatiable in the US and Europe, where bananas are among the top 5 most consumed fruits. In Latin America, more and more countries are seeing the opportunities that lie here. Guatemala, Panama and Colombia are investing in banana cultivation. Ecuador, which is the largest exporter, must also work hard to keep that position. While low temperatures in the production countries last year had an impact on the market, this has not been the case this year. In most countries, the market is again following the long-term patterns. The exception is France, where the 'yellow vests' blocked the roads, which took a toll on trade.
Guatemala wants to grow internationally
After last year's results, the sector is seeking new markets and investments in order to improve its profitability. Around 90% of exports find their way to the US, but the sector sees chances in Russia, South Korea, Germany and the United Kingdom. Last year, exporters saw the value of exports rise to $ 815 million. This makes bananas the second most important export product for the country. The production is expected to continue increasing over the next two years.
Peru: Strikes threaten exports
Last week, there were strikes in Peru. It was already warned in advance that the strikes threatened the transport of 180 containers of bananas per week. According to the trade association, this has caused growers to suffer damages worth about 3 million dollars. "Bananas are a vulnerable product. If the strike continues, the losses will be huge. Moreover, we need to fulfill the contracts we have with other countries. If we are unable to export, our reliability will be affected," says the organization.
Ecuador invests in banana cultivation
The largest banana exporter in the world owes its position to its favorable location and climate. The production cycle reaches its peak when the demand in Europe also peaks; nevertheless, the sector is facing some challenges. At the start of the new year, the Association of Banana Exporters of Ecuador (AEBE) pointed to the increasing yields as one of the challenges for the sector. On average, 1,900 boxes are filled in Ecuador with the harvest of one hectare. In other countries, this figure can reach up to 3,000 to 4,000 boxes. The government is supporting the growers with, for example, loans on favorable terms to stimulate investments in irrigation, drainage, technology or water purification.
Panama exports first bananas to the US
On 11 February, the first 3,000 boxes of Panamanian bananas were shipped to the US. The export has happened in the framework of the reactivation project in Baru, Chiriqui. "The negotiations lasted for a long time because we were seeking a favorable position for both the US and the residents of Baru," said the director of the banana exporters' association.
Colombia: Exports up by 2.5% in 2018
With a production of more than 100 million 20 kilo boxes of bananas in 2018, the country is fourth on the list of the world's largest exporters. That was a record position for the past ten years. Last year, production increased by 2.5% compared to 2017, mainly due to the expansion of the acreage The vast majority of bananas (82%) are shipped to the EU. The US stands second far behind, with 13% of the exports.
Australia: Cyclone 'Oma' damages plantations in New South Wales
The previously tropical storm 'Oma' hit New South Wales at the end of February and destroyed at least two banana plantations. One grower reported 95% damage of the Cavendish bunches and 90% of the banana trees. That amounts to a loss of 25,000 boxes. The second grower reported damage to 15,000 plants. The damage could be worth millions of dollars.
In the north of North Queensland, growers had to deal with floods. According to the Australian Banana Growers' Council, the fruit is not ripening as it should due to the persistent wet weather. The consequences of this are reflected on the supermarket shelves, but the organization stresses that the bananas have the same good taste. "There may be minor damages due to the persistent wet weather; the bananas may have skin damage and maybe they won't be as yellow as usual, but in the end, the banana will have the same taste," says the organization.
The shortages in the supply will probably result in a slightly higher price, but that situation will not last long. The market, however, already came from a situation of shortages in the supply. Due to the hot summer months of November and December, the fruit setting was affected.
Growers in the Northern Territory had more positive news to report. The region has been officially declared 'banana freckle' free. In 2013, the first cases of the disease were reported. Since then, a lot of work has been done to solve the issue.
China: Banana price is rising
In the last days of February, the price in Yunnan has been stable. The price for high-quality bananas was 3 yuan (0.45 dollars) per kilo, but there are also reports of prices for premium bananas that amount to 3.4 yuan (0.54 dollars) per kilo. The temperature has been relatively high, especially in the production areas on the border with Vietnam. As a result, the bananas ripened quickly and growers wanted to sell the fruit quickly.
In China, the banana market is doing well. The peak in the season has not yet been reached; this will happen in about two months. Currently there is a large volume of bananas from Yunnan on the market. There is also fruit from Guangdong and Guangxi, but the supply is not as great as that from Yunnan. The remaining bananas are imported from the Philippines, Ecuador, Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar. In any case, the Philippines remains China's favorite import banana supplier. There are a few strong Chinese banana brands, so the market is very competitive and the price fluctuates more. There is no strong brand name for the domestic banana production and the price for domestic bananas is currently rising.
Philippine banana production grew slightly in Q4 2018
The banana production in the archipelago grew by 0.6% in the fourth quarter of 2018. That equates to 2.42 million tons of bananas harvested in the last three months of the year. Most of the plantations are located in the Davao region, where 37.3% of the bananas are harvested.
US: Limited supply due to the cold
The cold front has limited the supply of bananas in North America. "At the moment, the supply is a bit tight," says a trader. In recent weeks, the supply volume has been reduced. Even though the production is looking good, the cold weather slows the harvest down. "The cold has strongly affected us by delaying the harvest," says a grower from Texas. Although this producer is expanding his production, the yield has not increased due to the low temperatures.
Besides the limited domestic harvest, there are also imports from Guatemala, Ecuador and Mexico. Traditionally, Guatemala leads the ranking of largest suppliers at this time of the year. The demand is stable, but low. A trader says that this is not exceptional. The fall and spring are the best periods for the banana market.
Due to the tighter supply, prices have risen slightly compared to last year. "I expect good prices perhaps until April," says a trader.
France: 'Yellow vest' protests have been catastrophic for the banana market
"Everyone thought that we would have the same prices on the spot market this year, but unfortunately, the prices are not as good as last year," says a trader. For a while, due to the cold weather, there was a smaller supply from Ecuador, Costa Rica, Martinique and Venezuela. The temperatures were lower than usual, especially at night. For two to three months, the weekly supply was reduced by about 40,000 to 50,000 boxes. A trader says that there was still sufficient supply from Africa.
"Normally, the prices on the spot market should rise in such circumstances, but that didn't happen," says the trader. He attributes this to the 'yellow vest' protests, which put the gross margins under pressure. Ultimately, looking back, 2018 was a good year in which it was possible to make a profit. This is mainly due to the good market conditions in the months before October, with March, April, May and June being particularly good. The summer months were simply okay. "In September, we had to pay our taxes and other costs, and in October, the 'yellow vest' protests had a catastrophic impact on sales. The end of the year was difficult for us."
Italy: Average price and good prospects
Banana prices stand at an average level in this period. The quality of the fruit is good and will continue to improve in the coming weeks. Most of the bananas are imported from Costa Rica and Ecuador. A trader says that, on average, the price is 15.50 Euro per box, which is in line with previous figures. A higher price was reached in 2018, but that was due to the exceptional situation on the market. In early 2018, the price for a box of bananas increased to over 17 Euro. In Italy, each box contains 18.14 kilos, although they will quickly weigh more than 19 kilos. In the first weeks of 2019, the market was weak, but now the prices have risen, says a trader and ripener. The demand has been on the rise in recent days and the supply stands only slightly above it. Prices are thus expected to rise or stabilize at a satisfactory level up until the end of May. The Italian demand falls in the summer.
Canary growers stand against market liberalization
The banana sector in the Canary Islands is 100% against the European plans to liberalize trade with Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. The growers fear that "the European banana sector will be punished by it." They receive support from, among others, the government of the archipelago. The Spanish government also stands behind the European growers and "won't allow the tariffs to be reduced or the phytosanitary requirements to become less strict, which is what the Andean countries have requested."
German importers fear rising prices after delays
On the German market, the situation at this moment is fairly stable. There is enough volume available to meet the demand, but at the same time, people are dealing with delays in the arrival of shipped goods. "If this continues in the coming weeks, it will inevitably have repercussions on the price, which will rise as a result," says an importer. In general, the prices on the banana market are relatively high. Last year's extremely high banana prices have almost been matched, albeit a little later than in 2018.
In the long term, organic and Fairtrade bananas are becoming increasingly important and their market share is logically increasing. At the moment, there are also two German importers who have set up a direct line for Demeter bananas. The unrest caused by low banana prices in the German retail also seems to have receded. Continuous weekly purchases from the retail sector seem to be guaranteed without any problems, and purchases are also good on the spot market. This is expected to still be the case in the summer, as soon as prices rapidly fall.
Belgium: Premium bananas at competitive prices
The banana market is under pressure due to the actions of various retailers. Premium bananas are still considered to be very important in Belgium and the Netherlands, but are sold at low prices. Also, the growth of Fairtrade and organic bananas continues at a good pace. In Belgium, this segment has been growing by 14 to 20 percent for years; nevertheless, the prices for organic or Fairtrade are also very low and worse than last year, despite the rising costs.
The Netherlands: Lower supply and higher prices on the banana market
The second half of 2018 was disastrous on the banana market, with extremely low prices. Some importers say that they'd never had it so bad. Now the supply is much lower, and the demand for bananas in the winter, despite the current warm weather, is traditionally a lot higher. Prices for yellow bananas stand at a nice level, between 16 and 17 Euro. The market is also expected to remain stable in the short term. A source of tension in the banana market is the fact that drugs from the producer countries are regularly found in banana shipments.
Cameroon: Lower exports in January
In January, the West African country exported 21,497 tons. This means that exports are about 2,000 tons lower than in the same month a year earlier. This decrease is linked to the discontinued activity of the Cameroon Development Corporation (CDC) as a result of the increasing tension in the Anglophone regions. The two other banana producers in the country, Plantations du haut Penja (PHP) and Boh Plantations, have increased their production. The former exported 19.730 tons of bananas, 2,000 tons more than a year earlier. Boh Plantations exported 600 tons more and reached 1,767 tons.
Zambia fears import of TR4
The banana sector in Zambia fears that the fungus TR4 will arrive through the import of bananas from Mozambique. Mozambique is one of the countries on the continent where banana cultivation is threatened by the fungus. Neighboring Zimbabwe closed the border for fear of it spreading, but recently opened it for the transit of green bananas into Zambia. The Zimbabwean government based its decision on research that states that the fungus is not spread through green bananas. In Zambia, people are not convinced by this.