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“Water shortage could knock out banana sector”

Water will be one of the biggest challenges for the future of agriculture. “Seventy per cent of global water use is for agriculture,” says Manfred Pulm of Greenyard. “Water use is increasing because of the growing global population, and that is leading to scarcity.”

A lot of water is used in the production of bananas to irrigate the plantations. With some simple adjustments and small investments in techniques, water use can be reduced. Manfred notes that small growers have a limited knowledge of irrigation. He talks about the example of a grower who always irrigates on Tuesday and Thursday, whether it’s the rainy season or not. “With less energy and water use, yields can be increased. Not all techniques are feasible for small growers, but training about ground water would make this feasible.”

Manfred Pulm, Greenyard (centre).

Due to similar adjustments, less stressed fruit is grown. “Stressed fruit has a shorter shelf life,” Manfred continues. “The supply chain profits when less stressed fruit is marketed.” It’s not always easy to convince growers. The results of one grower who invests or changes his production method are of great importance. If that’s positive, more will follow.

However, the topic doesn’t just concern production companies, but the environment in general and the consequences for drinking water. “Also think about climate change. In many areas, rain patterns have already changed.” Another point is the increasing salt water level in coastal areas. “The best way to enable growers to adapt is to offer a good price,” Manfred says. “In recent years, however, we’ve seen prices for growers dropping.”

Luis Pocasangre, connected to the Earth University in Costa Rica, has seen the same problem. “In Brazil, costs for irrigation are more than 3,000 dollar per hectare,” he says. “On the Canary Islands, irrigation costs 7,000 dollar per hectare. Water shortages can knock out the sector.” He pleads for a ‘water bank,’ which collects water via various systems, and sells it at high prices. Because of that, more advanced irrigation techniques can be used.

Jan ’t Lam, of The Rainforest Alliance, calls for ‘climate smart agriculture.’ “Adapt to new circumstances to realise sustainable production methods.” The certificate is updated to the changing conditions, and they’ve also looked at protecting the ecosystem, health of soils and biodiversity. “It doesn’t stop at the company’s perimeter, we have to use a landscape-wide approach.”

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