Banana industry: sustainability is a shared responsibility

17 June 2024   |   Rob Desson, Senior Business Partnerships Manager - Fresh Produce

Farmers and workers voice strong desire for more equitable trade partnerships during Fairtrade’s IV Banana Forum in Santa Marta, Colombia

Bananas – they’re an inexpensive staple of just about any grocery store in the U.S., but that low cost to the consumer comes at a high price for farmers and workers. To secure a fairer future for the banana industry, stakeholders across the supply chain must work more closely together to share the burden of sustainable banana production.

This was the resounding theme at Fairtrade’s IV Banana Forum, hosted from May 21-22 in Santa Marta, Colombia, where over 300 representatives from Fairtrade certified banana organizations, retailers, and policy and research organizations gathered for dialogue about the challenges and innovative solutions in the global banana industry.

Over two days, I listened to producer organizations discuss the impacts of climate change on their farms. I heard from large farming operations and policy experts about the path to living wages for banana workers, and I shared my own insights on the North American market for bananas to support greater collaboration and transparency with producer organizations.

“Bananas aren’t just a commodity – they represent the lives and futures of whole communities.”

Farmers onstage and in the audience made it clear that in order to continue providing quality fruit, importers and retailers must own their shared responsibility for environmentally friendly, high quality and reliable banana farming. Some of producers’ key points included:

  • The average price they receive is still unsustainably low in the face of economic volatility and climate change. Without pricing that reflects the true costs of today’s banana production, the industry will crumble, starting with farmers and workers.
  • Fairtrade International’s certification and support is the model that benefits farmers and workers the most, and producer organizations want more contracts on Fairtrade terms.
  • Shared responsibility is essential: sustainable banana supply chains can only be achieved through greater stakeholder collaboration and transparency, fostered through long-term partnerships with grower organizations.

Furthermore, several forum sessions explored the current state of the North American and European market for bananas, and it’s clear that bananas remain an important product that consumers are willing to pay for. Data shared by CIRAD, a French research organization, revealed that despite increasing prices for bananas over 2021 and 2022, volumes purchased remained stable and even increased in some countries. Fairtrade’s own recent research, conducted by independent global research firm GlobeScan, shows that US consumers are willing to pay up to 60 cents more per pound for bananas that are Fairtrade certified.

But most importantly, the discussions at the banana forum reinforced the truth that bananas aren’t just a commodity – they represent the lives and futures of whole communities.

While attending the forum, I also had the chance to visit several banana farming organizations where I saw firsthand how they’re supporting the people who live and work around them. One organization had utilized their Fairtrade Premium to create programs like a dance school and a soccer training program that protect local youth from violence that still plagues some areas of Colombia. Another celebrated the first phase of a project to provide workers with affordable and well-built housing – 15 families received keys to a new apartment, this is just the first group of more than 50 families that will receive apartments once the project is fully completed.

Industry leaders, imagine how many people would be impacted if the US market alone placed a higher value on our bananas.

Utilizing their Fairtrade Premium funds, certified banana organization CORTRABAM recently completed the first phase of a worker housing project, which will provide 57 affordable, decent housing units for cooperative employees when finished.

The sustainability of the banana industry, meaning both the planet and the people it supports, depends on an industry-wide shift. My hope is that more North American businesses answer the call of their partners in the field and embrace the chance to be bold, leveraging their influence to drive change to create a world where we can all thrive.

(left to right) Fredy Perez and Foncho Cantillo, leaders within the Coobafrio cooperative in Colombia, demonstrate the improved soil health resulting from the cooperative’s use of organic, biofermented fertilizer products.

In the short term, retailers, importers and distributors must meet producers where they are, and I mean that literally. Join the next gathering of Fairtrade banana farmers and workers at 2025’s Banana Forum in Latin America. Hear what both small-scale producers and large farming operations need from their commercial partners. See the impact of Fairtrade partnership, not just for farmers’ bottom lines but for entire communities. Meet the young people who represent the next generation of sustainable, regenerative banana cultivation.

Share the responsibility, and the exciting opportunity, of building a sustainable banana industry together.

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