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Martin de Bedout, Técnicas Agrícolas Sebastopol:

"Costa Rican bananas cannot compete in terms of price"

The four largest banana companies (Chiquita, Del Monte, Dole and Fyffes) are based in Costa Rica and export 91% of all bananas in the country. Independent producers with the remaining 9%, such as Técnicas Agrícolas Sebastopol, are looking for international clients who appreciate the additional effort of cultivating them in a sustainable way.

This was stated by Martin de Bedout, general manager of Sebastopol, who explains that his company grows bananas with many sustainable practices, including forest conservation. Although they are unable to grow bananas in a fully organic way because of the humidity conditions, they strive to make use of as many sustainability practices as they can. "We are trying to get a certification from the Rainforest Alliance," he adds. "Also, we comply with the rules of the Banana Environmental Commission, such as the reduction of water use through good practices and post-harvest processes."

All year round
Costa Rica produces bananas all year round and sells them at the same price during the entire season because of a government decree. The company hopes to reach the necessary agreements before the end of the year. However, the weather conditions can affect the plants and, in the cold season, which lasts from November to the end of February, the plantations are reduced and they produce smaller hands. "The volume difference is not very large, 15 or 20%, but in March it starts to accelerate a little," explains the producer. "We prepare for this type of seasons, for example, by leaving more bunches in the trees."

Sebastopol exports its bananas mainly to Europe; a very interesting market for the company, which attends Fruit Attraction. Each European country has its preferences in terms of bananas, and Costa Rica can satisfy them all.
De Bedout has great expectations for next year. "From the point of view of production, it will be a year with much more volume. In 2014 and 2015, it rained a lot, around 7,000 mm. 2016 has been a very interesting year from the second half and we are preparing the plantations for an excellent year in 2017. As for the market, we are trying to attract independent traders," he explains.

Only 9% goes to independent markets
"In Costa Rica, 91% of the fruits are for the four largest companies: Chiquita, Del Monte, Dole and Fyffes. Only 9% of the fruit goes to independent markets, precisely in Europe. That is our goal: to find those good companies interested in our sustainability efforts," stresses De Bedout.

According to the producer, most customers only look for the cheapest price and do not appreciate those efforts, which usually result in higher prices for the bananas.

For that reason, Costa Rican bananas cannot compete in terms of price with those of other countries, which are usually between $ 1 and $ 1.50 cheaper than the prices set by the Government of Costa Rica, The big banana companies have chosen to be based in Costa Rica because of the stability the country offers. While the currencies of other producing countries are very unstable and fluctuate very often, the exchange rate of Costa Rica's currency has been the same for four years. "We are more expensive, but companies trust Costa Rica." Furthermore, the producer affirms with pride that Costa Rica is the country where all the technology with which bananas are grown is developed. "Corbana, the National Banana Corporation, is a very strong entity which employs very professional people."

Técnicas Agrícolas Sebastopol was founded in 1998 with a small plantation in a well-communicated area on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. Although, initially, it was fully devoted to bananas, it started a pineapple project in 2002, which lasted until 2014, when it was decided to put an end to it because of the market situation. At present, it is also planting bananas in the acreage which was used for pineapples and is trying to continue expanding. It currently has a total of 120 hectares of plantations that produce about 8 containers of Cavendish bananas every week.

More information:
Martin de Bedout, General Manager
Técnicas Agrícolas Sebastopol
E: [email protected]