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Panama: Chiquita Brands in Baru 2015

In early 2015, the US company Chiquita Brands will restart operations in Panama to produce and export banana from Baru, in the province of Chiriqui.

"They are finalizing details to start operations. There's no starting date yet, but the work to revive the banana zone in Baru is quite advanced. They'll possibly start in early 2015," said Edwin Vergara, National Director of industry of the Ministry of Agricultural Development (MIDA).

Chiquita Brands will work on 1,757 hectares belonging to the Association of Individual Producers, which consists of 1,757 former employees of the former Cooperative of Multiple Services Waterford, RL (Coosemupar).

The Vergara stated that this was a private contract between Chiquita Brands and the owners of the hectares, consisting of an investment plan to rent the hectares for a period of twenty years, where workers will also charge a percentage of the production per hectare.

Vergara said the cost per hectare is still being discussed, but it was estimated that the production would amount to 4,000 boxes per hectare and a workforce of 1.5 persons per hectare would be required.

However, there is still a list of details that must be defined before starting the project; the issues of roads, logistics operation, the seed to use, and workers. "We must organize schools, health centres and homes because people can not live on the farm," the official said.

In the late 90s, Panama exported more than 43 million boxes of bananas, but exports decreased to 13 or 15 million cases a year when operations in the Pacific came to an end.
Chiquita Brands, which operates in Bocas del Toro, worked in Baru from 1927-2003, when the banana business was taken over by Coosemupar and went bankrupt. Chiquita had 6,500 hectares in concession and planted some 3,000 hectares of which it awarded its former employees 1,765 hectares individually and 800 hectares collectively.

Currently, more than 3,000 hectares have been invaded by people who argue that they are willing to buy them from the State.

Source: La Estrella de Panama
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