Bananas

The banana and plantain family is the fourth most important crop in the world and their production is critical for food security in many tropical countries. World banana production amounts to some 95 million metric tons per annum with approximately 20% being traded annually on the world market, and on which several million people depend for their livelihood. Bananas and plantains are produced in more than 100 countries mainly in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean and Latin America where the climatic conditions are most suitable for growth. The Cavendish variety of banana is grown by at least fifteen Latin American and Caribbean countries and is a crucial source of foreign exchange for producers. The crop is grown primarily by small scale farmers in Africa, Asia and Northern Latin America for household consumption and local markets. Crops produced for the local markets are done with little or no inputs while those export markets in the industrialised world require an unblemished product thus requiring external inputs such as pesticides. It is estimated that 97% of bananas traded internationally are of the Cavendish variety. Bananas provide the major export revenue for many small countries in the CARICOM region, accounting for up a third of all export earnings in the Windward Islands. Although banana cultivation in the region can be traced back to the late 1800s in Jamaica, its plantation cultivation and dependence goes back to the early 1950s, when the islands were British colonies and where, until then, sugar from sugar cane had been the main export. This ended when sugar beet grown in Britain began to compete and the price on the world market for sugar fell, resulting in the British Government deciding to promote the growing of bananas production is ideally suited for the conditions which exist in most CARICOM nations since it is a year-round product which provides income for small farmers. It is resilient enough to produce again after a short period of destruction which is vital in an area such as the Caribbean which is prone to devastating hurricanes. Bananas in the Windward Islands and in one area of Jamaica are nearly all produced on small farms in hilly areas, owned and worked by local producers or family businesses. The small plots often lie on steep and difficult terrain, unsuited to other crops. Due to the hilly nature of the islands and land distribution within the islands, plantation production is not possible and family members often help on the farms that are typically less than five hectares. In some cases, bananas are planted alongside food crops. In Belize, Suriname and some parts of Jamaica however, bananas are produced on medium- to large-scale plantations. The European Union is a very significant player in world banana trade and traditionally represents an important market for CARICOM bananas. It imports about a third of all traded bananas which is about the same amount as North America but three times the third largest importer, Japan. EU policies therefore have a major impact on world trade in bananas. From 1993 onwards, the Caribbean became caught up in what became known as the “banana wars” between Europe and the USA. The basis for the complaint to the World Trade Organization (WTO) was that the EU import policy unfairly restricted access to market for US multinationals based in Central and South America. The EU is a significant producer of bananas with its production being based in territories such as Martinique, Guadeloupe, and the Canary Islands. In addition, due to its post-colonial relationships with Europe, CARICOM countries, along with others in Africa and the Pacific, had been given preferential access to the EU market through a series of cooperation and trade agreements, which had their origin in the Yaoundé Convention of 1959. Under the Lomé Convention of 1975, African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries were given full duty-free access to the EU banana market. Other producers were, however, given restricted access subject to licences and tariffs. The challenges to the EU’s banana regime continued for some fifteen years until 2009 when the EU conceded that the tariff facing the so-called MFN suppliers would be substantially reduced over a period of eight years, from the level of Euro 176/tonne to Euro 114/tonne in 2016. The parties involved agreed that, with the tariff reductions, all legal challenges to the EU banana regime would cease. An evolution of the exports of Caribbean bananas to the European Union can be seen in tables 1 and 2 below. Even before the change in the EU’s import regime, CARICOM bananas have had to face stiff competition from Latin American fruit for space on the shelves of the large supermarket chains. Costs of production in CARICOM are substantially higher than those in Central and South America with transportation costs being two to three times higher. Since 2000, the Windward Islands Farmers Association (WINFA) has launched an initiative to make its product more competitive by having it certified under the Fair Trade labelling programme whereby farmers are guaranteed process that cover their cost of production while they in turn commit to environmentally sound practices and social enhancement standards. The first Fair Trade bananas from the Windward Islands were shipped in 2002 and by 2006, 70% of all exports from the four islands were certified Fair Trade.

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