Going Bananas: Canada hosts the World Banana Forum as True Price Report reveals social & environmental costs of conventional bananas

Celia

Bananas are the world’s most exported fresh fruit. In Canada, bananas comprised a whopping 9.0% of the $6.58 billion in imported fresh fruit in 2017, with 15.70 kg available for consumption per Canadian, making it by far one of the most consumed fruits across the country.

Bananas may be the most familiar fruit on grocery store shelves, but behind that bright exterior are steep external costs that take a heavy toll on people and planet. Recent research pegs the hidden damage in one box of bananas at $6.70USD.

On October 9-11, the World Banana Forum (WBF) will hold its first ever meeting on North American soil in Montreal, QC. The WBF strives to ensure that banana production and trade are sustainable from the environmental, social and economic perspectives and that every actor in the supply chain, from producers to retailers, receives a fair price.

Despite hosting the WBF, Canada is woefully behind in retailing bananas traded under fair terms. Where other countries see major retailers like Sainsbury’s and Lidl committing to 100% Fairtrade banana sourcing, in Canada, Fairtrade bananas are only available in IGA and Sobeys stores in QC, Farm Boy and Longo’s Markets in ON, and Choices Markets and a number of smaller retailers in BC. The Forum is an opportunity to shed light on the Canadian banana market and ask challenging questions about how we ensure fair and sustainable trade practices in a sector beleaguered with history of injustice and abuse.

Finding the true cost

In an innovative study with Fairtrade, True Price and Trucost compared the external costs of conventional production with bananas produced as Fairtrade. The hidden costs in the banana sector amount to an average of $6.70USD per box. Much of this due to externalized social costs, including inadequate wages, lack of social security for workers, and inadequate income for small farmers. The largest environmental costs are land use, water exhaustion, and climate change. Fairtrade bananas were found to have average external costs of $3.65USD per box of bananas, an average of 45% less than the sector.

The study concludes that the banana sector can dramatically improve sustainability by reducing external costs. Best practices adopted by Fairtrade producers and traders can be instructive. Under the Fairtrade Standards producers and industry actors must pay fairer wages/prices, invest in community programs, create safe and healthy workplaces, negotiate more transparently, and ensure rights outlined in the international labor conventions.

The research was based on agricultural inputs, working conditions and environmental impacts at 15 Fairtrade plantations and 97 small-scale farmers in Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador and Peru. Sector data looked at the same aspects and were derived from secondary sources and verified and validated by local experts.

Fairtrade Banana Monitoring & Impact Facts

  • Fairtrade currently works with over 22,044 farmers and workers organized into 147 producer groups in 16 countries.
  • The Dominican Republic is the top producer of Fairtrade bananas, followed by Colombia, Peru and Ecuador.
  • 59 percent of Fairtrade banana sales were also certified organic.
  • Banana producer organizations received over $30 million in Fairtrade Premium in 2016, an amount over the purchase price that they invest in communities or businesses according to their priorities.
  • Workers on Fairtrade certified plantations invested 33 percent of their Fairtrade Premium in worker housing and home improvements.
  • Small-scale farmers invested 52 percent of their Fairtrade Premium in improving their businesses, including facilities and infrastructure, training and capacity building, and cooperative administration.
  • 91% of workers in Colombia have seen household assets increase by an average of 64% since their plantation became Fairtrade certified.
  • Three quarters of farmer cooperative members in Ecuador said their income and wellbeing had improved in the last three years.
  • Small-scale farmers in Colombia reported an average 34% increase in income due to their affiliation with Fairtrade certified organizations.

Image shows Celia Pulla working at the Fairtrade Certified Mercedes Vanessa farm in El Guabo, Ecuador. Photo by Guillermo Granja.