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Ash from Sangay volcano harms quality of export bananas in Guayas and Los Rios

The banana plantations in the province of Guayas have been especially affected by the volcanic ash from the recent eruption of the Sangay volcano, which has deteriorated the quality of the fruit for export. One of the most affected areas has been the Canton Milagro, where producers, such as Manuel Quintuña, have had significant losses in the production destined for international markets.

The 24 hectares of his plantation located in the Mariscal Sucre parish are still covered with thick ash. Day laborers wear long-sleeved clothing and pants to minimize their contact with it. On the farm, a worker is in charge of making a vertical cut in the plastic sheath covering the banana bunch to carefully remove it. Another worker checks that there are no traces of volcanic material on the fruit before putting it in the wash tanks to later select it, label it and pack it.

At this point, technicians and workers begin to detect fruit that does not have export quality. Until last week, 2% of the fruit didn't have the quality to be exported, but with the fall of the volcanic ash, this number increased. Quintuña estimates that 10% of the 1,440 boxes he produces a week cannot be exported and will go to the local market.

Ivan Cabrera, the vice president of the Regional Corporation of Ecuadorian Banana Producers (Agroban) and a producer from Milagro, said that the losses in the farms varied. The effects will be low in the farms that used covers to protect the banana bunches. The remaining producers will have losses of more than 25%. According to Cabrera, producers must apply two techniques to minimize the impact. Protecting the fruit with special covers and using the ladder system to cut the bunches to avoid dispersing the ash.

Agroban is part of the Banana Cluster. The union estimates that 30% of fruit production in the 55,759 hectares affected by the eruption of the Sangay volcano will be lost.

According to the MAG, the most affected cantons in Guayas are the Yaguachi, Milagro, and Simon Bolivar cantons. In Los Rios, the volcanic ash also affected the banana plantations in Baba, Babahoyo, and Vinces.

The sector hopes that this event will not affect the good performance of exports in 2020. Shipments between January and August grew by 8.45% over the same period in 2019, totaling 260.6 million boxes.

Richard Salazar, the director of the Banana Marketing and Export Association (Acorbanec), said it's still too early to calculate the impact that the volcanic ash would have on exports. The sector expects to have a realistic analysis later this week.



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