Even though Ecuador is the world's largest exporter of bananas, with a presence in the markets of five continents, the country's main challenge is the productivity of its plantations. In 2018, the country achieved an average productivity of 1,900 boxes per hectare, and an estimated 1,950 boxes per hectare in 2019, stated Richard Salazar, the administrator of the Banana Marketing and Export Association (Acorbanec). This small increase is positive but does not reach the levels of the main banana competitors in the region, Colombia and Costa Rica, which exceed 2,000 boxes.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, one of the factors that affect low productivity is the age of the plantations. "It is estimated that in Ecuador, specifically in the province of El Oro, there are 30-year-old plantations with varieties that do not allow a population of 1,575 plants per hectare," the Ministry stated.
Another factor is poor infrastructure, as there are banana farms that do not have drains or modern irrigation systems. The lack of modernization in the farms hinders achieving a greater productive efficiency, which is evidenced above all among small producers, due to the lack of access to financing, technical assistance and, in some cases, because the crops are in areas that are not suitable for bananas, Richard Salazar stated.
In addition, the Ministry stated, some banana plantations do not comply with good agricultural practices, such as timely fruit filling, nutrition plan, adequate dewatering and phytosanitary systems, according to the area.
These factors affect the average productivity of the country. There are small plantations that do not yield more than 1,600 boxes per hectare, while other modernized areas can achieve up to 4,600 boxes per hectare per year.
There is a need for improvement
In recent years, banana productivity has been improved (in 2012 the average was 1,100 boxes per hectare) thanks to the efforts of both the private and public sectors.
One of the actions to improve productivity is the technical assistance provided by the 44 technicians of the Subsecretariat for the Strengthening of Musaceae, who support producers in good agricultural practices, certifications, and food safety.
Parallel to the increase in productivity, the country must work to improve access to certain markets with great growth potential, such as South Korea, where Ecuadorian bananas currently pay a 30% tariff, and in Japan and China, where exporters pay a 20 and 10% tariff, respectively.
Another favorable scenario is Russia, where Ecuadorian fruit exports could grow by approximately 300,000 tons if the country manages to reduce the current tariff, according to Acorbanec calculations.