According to Marike De Peña, a small organic producer from the Dominican Republic and president of the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Small Fair Trade Banana Producers, if things don't change, banana producers have no future. "Prices have been decreasing for decades while social and environmental demands have been increasing. Producers are not being paid enough for a box of bananas to cover production costs, and I'm not talking about sustainable production but normal production."
"Europe shouldn't be the one defining prices. Prices must be set by producers, not by the parties buying the product," she stressed. That's why De Peña welcomed the conclusions reached by seven Latin American banana countries in mid-January 2022: unite to put pressure on their European buyers. "It is the first time that countries that normally compete make the great effort to unite to avoid a disaster for the banana industry in general," she stated, hoping that the sector finds a solution that helps large and small producers.
"We are in a tremendous crisis," stated Juan Jose Pons, the coordinator of the Ecuadorian Banana Cluster, one of the largest producers in the world that convened the summit. The summit was attended by Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Guatemala, and Honduras. "We are all affected by the same thing, we all want to defend banana production," stated Pons, presidential adviser on the subject of Musaceae.
What's the problem?
"European consumers want a perfect, cute, yellow banana. But that requires, for example, using special instruments so that the insects are unable to leave any mark on it. In addition, producers must comply with EU green policies, which require certain standards regarding pesticides and fungicides. Above all, European retailers have been putting pressure on producers to decrease prices. The final prices of bananas have been declining in the last decade. And they have adjusted them with the weakest link in the chain: the producer and, therefore, the worker," highlights Pons.
"For example, there are German chains that buy 30 to 35 million boxes of bananas a year. Can you imagine the kind of power they have to put pressure on prices?" he asked.
In addition, the European banana production itself is scarce. "The EU imports 4.6 million tons of bananas. The European production only accounts for 600,000 tons of bananas in the market. They don't have the capacity to supply the market," Pons stated. Costs increased as shipping transport rates skyrocketed. However, the situation benefits supermarkets, which use the low price of bananas to attract consumers, he added.