Enlever la pelure

Approximativement 87% des bananes sont produites sur d'immenses plantations contrôlées par de grandes multinationales, verticalement intégrées, comme les entreprises aux marques Dole, Del Monte et Chiquita. Ces entreprises embauchent souvent des enfants qui sont obligés de travailler dans des conditions toxiques provenant de la pulvérisation de fongicides sur les bananes. Maintenant, des bananes équitables et organiques sont disponibles, et leurs profits sont distribués parmi les producteurs, les collectivités impliquées et l'environnement en profite aussi. Il nous suffit que de les exiger de notre épicié local!

Pulling Back the Peel:
Revealing the Globalized System of Banana Production

Henria Stephens
September 2006

ummy, what a tasty banana! How many times have you stopped to think about where that flavourful fruit came from? Most people do not dwell on 'trivial' matters such as the origin of their food, but it is definitely something to take into account. Worry not! This article is not intended to make you, the reader, feel guilty about biting into another scrumptious banana. Instead, this article will chart a course that begins on the farm plantations of Latin America and small family lots of the Windward Islands, and will gradually make its way into your conscience and, if very lucky, into your shopping cart.

Bananas are produced in more than 123 countries throughout the world, but the bulk of banana production is quite concentrated, with ten countries accounting for 63% of the total output. The bulk of continental tropical American fruit is sent to North American markets, with small amounts only being shipped to Europe; West Indian fruit is variously distributed, the produce of the British islands going mainly to Britain, that of the French islands to France, and that of the republics going to North America.

(Photo: www.geo-images.com)

When considering banana production, it is important not to generalize. The banana market, not unlike many other industries, is controlled by a small number of large American multinational corporations such as Dole Foods, Fresh Del Monte Produce, and Chiquita Brands. Most bananas are grown on huge plantations, controlled by these corporate giants. Only 13% of banana productions are not controlled by big business, but rather by small holdings and collective farming.

To understand your banana's journey, you must first understand the production process and the producers themselves. In terms of large scale production, Dole, Chiquita, and Del Monte are vertically integrated companies. That means that they each control all the stages from cultivation and packaging through to export, shipping, import, and ripening, which translates into increased profits.

Focusing on Dole…this company has a tendency to produce bananas in countries with the most lax commitments to enforcing human rights and labour legislations, in this case Ecuador and Costa Rica. As a result, plantation workers who are paid a piece-rate are unable to mobilize due to lack of job security and the continuous flow of immigrant workers (mainly from Nicaragua) who are willing to work despite the strenuous conditions.

(Photo: Oregon State University)

The situation facing Ecuadorian banana workers is even worse. Ecuador has the lowest banana production cost in Latin America, and as a result it produces one third of Dole's Latin American production. A report published in 2002 by Human Rights Watch denounced Dole for employing child labourers, the average age being 11.5, the youngest being 8. The report found that most of the children worked in unsafe conditions and were no longer attending school. Three of the girls interviewed had also experienced sexual harassment at the packing plant of Dole's main supplier. Attempts by workers to unionize for basic improvements have been met with fierce resistance and workers involved in union movements are routinely dismissed and/or blacklisted from future plantation employment. Furthermore, scientists in Ecuador discovered that aerial spraying of fungicides was done while workers toiled, near their homes and while they ate.

So, how is that banana tasting now?

The trade of bananas for small-scale farmers involves several stages. First, the bananas are purchased from the producer by cooperatives and representatives from marketing firms. The harvesting period is the most labour-intensive time for small-scale banana farmers. Once the export certificates and import licences are matched, the bananas are transported to packing stations and lugged by hand to nearby packing sheds. Washing, applications of fungicide, sorting, and packing into boxes for export are performed by a few workers, who may pack as few as ten boxes per day. The boxes are loaded by hand on to small trucks for hauling to the port. Bananas are then transported to market by sea.

Under these modes of production, your tasty banana is picked green and, in order to "aid" in the ripening process, the bananas are sprayed and then gassed to achieve that unnaturally bright yellow colour North American consumers have come to expect. But you needn't cross bananas off of your grocery list; there are alternatives.

(Photo: Andrea Berry)

Currently, fair trade and organic bananas are available. The fair trade system insists on 'sustainable' production; that is, reducing the use of harmful pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers and ultimately helping the farmer to become organic certified. This in turn has a benefit of improving the health of the growers, because they are no longer exposed to dangerous chemicals that are often banned in the consumer countries. In small scale farming, fair trade social premium projects are providing support to schools, health clinics, and community centres as well as helping to improve roads in rural areas. Fair trade also aims to help enhance the on-farm operation and other entrepreneurial activities. Similarly, organic agriculture stresses the importance of health, ecology, fairness, and care. Organic banana production protects and improves soil, offers security of supply for vulnerable farmers, and is sustainable. Look for the labels or stamps of fair trade and organic certification on the bananas in your grocery store. Those labels are your guarantee that you've made a sustainable choice.

Now that's a tasty banana!