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Journey of Bananas: From Production to Consumption

The Journey of Bananas

I. Production

Bananas are one of the most produced, imported and exported produce in the world. However, the journey behind the production to consumption is an even more interesting story.  Bananas have been around since the ancient times and has originated from East Asia and Oceania. (Filippone, P, T (2018, June 3). Not only has it been around for so long it is also, one of the most nutritious and widely eaten fruit worldwide. There are a variety of bananas such as plantain, baby, manzano, red, burro, apple and lady finger however, the most common type that is generally sold in all types of markets in North America are Cavendish Bananas which will be the focus. Amanda (2018, May 1).  Bananas are not only eaten raw they are sometimes used in different cultural cuisines but, in the end, it still has the same health benefits such as high fiber content which is also, great for the heart, eases in digestion, high source of potassium, helps with blood pressure and helps fight anaemia. (Borah, P (2018 August 20). This report will detail the journey of the banana from the production side all the way to the consumption.

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I.I Growing

Ecuador is one of the biggest countries to produce and export bananas and the most common type is the Cavendish Banana. Bananas are grown from rhizomes, which have their own roots and grow sideways rather than down. A full tree takes around 9 to 12 months to full grow but the trees can bear fruit as early as 6 months. (“Banana plants are often,”n.d)  Although, growing seems like an easy process, more often than not there are challenges that arise especially in South American countries. Banana trees are extremely susceptible to weather and diseases. Heavy winds or storms could knock over a tree very easily but 2 serious diseases, Black Sigatoka and Panama disease also, affect bananas in a very negative way. (“Most bananas exported, n.d”)  These 2 major diseases cost big companies to lose 30% profit because the crops are too damaged to sell or they over use pesticides, which can cause the banana to be toxic. Other types of issues that can affect banana production are soil erosion, deforestation and destruction of habitats, massive levels of waste and destruction of soil fertility, which causes a higher use of fertilizer. (“Most bananas exported, n.d”) These big companies, Dole, Chiquita, and Del Monte are aware of these issues and produce banana in different countries but, doing so may slow down the amount of damage they do however, it will still catch up to these countries unless the companies start an alternative to their techniques. If the workers and big companies had better routines checks of the crops and soil, they could easily reduce the number of unusable crops from 30% to 20% and save on how much it affects the earth and the environment around themselves. (Hays, J & Morrow, W (2011, March))

I.II Harvesting

Picking the bananas at the right time is extremely important process, it has be picked when it is green otherwise the fruit will be spoiled before it can be sold. Harvesting takes place about a year from when the fruit was planted, and each stem can weight as much as 50 to 125 pounds per stock. Hays, J & Morrow, W (2011, March).  Once the bananas are picked, they go through a selection process and which ever passes get packed and the rest that do not get discarded. Harvesting seems likes a relatively simple process, there are many laws in a lot of these countries that major companies do not abide by. Most common ones are the use of minors and their living/working conditions. Although major companies will not confirm that they use children illegally to work on their farms, many articles report seeing children working for extremely cheap and having not only the children but, the adults in risk of being exposed to all the toxic pesticides, sharp knives and, unsanitary water. (“Banana workers in Ecuador, 2002, April 24) In order to spread the pesticides efficiently, companies will fumigate the plants above the plants while there are workers on the ground. There have been many cases where children have been affected, in an interview a girl, Fabiola Cardozo who was 12 at the time reported that she became ill after a spraying.

I got a fever… I told my boss that I felt sick… He told me to go home… [The second time,] I became covered with red things. They itched. I had a cough. My bones hurt. I told my boss. He sent me home. (“Banana workers in Ecuador, para. 17)

Most time the children do not have anything to protect themselves, they try hiding under banana leaves, covering their face with their shirt or placing banana cartons over their heads but they must keep working otherwise, they will lose their job. Another case with a boy, Cristbal Alvarez explained,

That poison – sometimes it makes one sick. Of course, I keep working. I don’t cover myself. Once I got sick. I vomited [and] had a headache… after the fumigation. I was eleven years old… I told my bosses. They gave me two days to recover. (“Banana workers in Ecuador, para. 17)

Not only are the workers susceptible to toxic, most of the women especially the younger girls are victims to sexual harassment from the “boss” of the farms. Marta Mendoza worked on a plantation bearing the Dole logo above a sign that read “Las Fincas” which strongly suggests that they are exclusively a supplier for Dole, (“Banana workers in Ecuador, para. 19) told Human Rights Watch,

There is a boss at the plant who’s very sick… This man is rude. He goes around touching girls’ bottoms… He is in charge there and is always there. He told me that he wants to make love to me. Once he touched me. I was taking off plastic banana coverings, and he touched my bottom. He keeps bothering me. He goes around throwing kisses at me. He calls me ‘my love. (“Banana workers in Ecuador, para. 19)

Major corporations should be held accountable for these actions, you cannot have staff of your own payroll acting this way to children. COLSIBA – Coordinating Body of Latin American Banana and Agro-industrial Unions believes in preserving and being an advocate for the respect of labour, union and human rights, and specifically issues for women workers. (“According to Fatima,” (n.d.)).  COLSIBA had a successful campaign which introduced the first sexual harassment policy in Latin America banana sectorThe policy emphasised that women workers in the banana sector is the responsibility of all industry stakeholders and that active involvement and commitment of companies and producer associations is necessary to make progress towards gender equity. (Cooper, A & Banana Link (2015, March) 23). Currently in Ecuador the minimum wage hourly is $7.25USD/hour (Ecuador has a government, n.d.), the children working in these conditions are getting paid roughly $3.50 per day which require them to work as long as 12 hour shifts per day, to counter that many plantations offer housing, water, electricity, schools, churches and electricity for their workers. Hays, J & Morrow, W (2011, March). These major companies have the money and influence to get the government to prevent minors being used in their plantations but, they do not because they would rather profit off children then look out for them.

I.III Processing & Packing

Packing bananas are the most crucial part of the bananas journey, a hefty process goes on behind the scene to determine whether a banana will be chosen or not. When the bananas get brought in, they go through a chemical water bath made up of water and alum which is to remove waste, insects and latex. (“Agriculture uses 70%, n.d) From there the stems are dipped in a sealing chemical which prevents pests and insects from getting in, after that they are wrapped in plastic then graded and boxed. In some countries getting access to water can be pricey and difficult, major companies have adopted a practice which allows them to re-use the water which can help save on the cost. Adding chlorine can allow these farms another 2 weeks of washing the bananas in the same water. Recirculation systems in the farms can help reduce water consumption by nearly 80%. (“Agriculture uses 70%, n.d) Not only is reusing the water that they use to clean the bananas it is also extremely unsanitary,

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It has since been well established that chlorine may incompletely oxidize organic materials to produce undesirable byproducts, such as chloroform (CHCl3) or other trihalomethanes, that have known or suspected carcinogenic potential at high doses. (Suslow, T (2005))

I.IV Transportation

Bananas are shipped worldwide from various farms in South America, the top 3 countries of importers are United States, Belgium and Russia totaling over $5.3 billion dollars, 34.5% of the world’s bananas. Workman, D (2018, August 30). When the bananas arrive at a ripening facility, they are still extremely ripe and requires under a week to begin maturing before it can be sold. The secret to expedite a banana is to trigger its ripening with ethylene gas, The first night the room where the bananas are stored is filled with ethylene gas where a specialist will hold a specific temperature and consistent humidity. Lobato, A ( 2014, January 31).  Once the bananas have been set overnight the second day they remove the gas from the rooms and leave the triggered bananas in the room at around 60-62 degree. Once they are aired out and cooled down from the heat the fruit is then monitored and when they are ready, they are sent out to the grocery stores to be sold. Lobato, A ( 2014, January 31).

II. Consumption

When the bananas get shipped from the ripening facility it is time for them to get sold but before they can get sent to grocery stores they are sent to a wholesaler where different retailers come and purchase. The wholesaler’s job is to provide a large amount of bananas to the retailer at a significantly cheaper price than, market. Retailers will always buy from a wholesaler because doing so maximizes their profit margins. These retailers could be major corporations such as Metro, Loblaws and Longos or smaller mom and pop shops. What makes mom and pop shops successful are the laws in place that protect them from predatory pricing. Predatory pricing is also, known as undercutting. The strategy is when you have bigger companies offering lower prices on items that other stores such as mom and pop shops cannot match which gives the bigger companies all the customers while the other stores are left leaving the price the same because they would be taking a loss if they lowered or they would go out of business because they are not able to profit anymore. In Canada, it is against the law to undercut or drive smaller companies out of business by lower prices and driving the market towards the major corporations. Government of Canada. (2018, May 1). The only system which hurts the profit of mom and pop shops are the use of online applications which allow consumers to purchase goods and get them delivered. Using these services such as Instacart drives business away from smaller companies because these apps have deals with big companies such as Loblaws and is taking another section of the market away from small businesses. Wholesaler prices for bananas in the United States are roughly under $1USD/kg. When retailers sell at market it is around $1.25/kg. There are approximately 7 bananas per kg, meaning that every kilogram of bananas sold is $1.75 profit.

III. Conclusion

Regardless of how profitable bananas are and how the demand for them continue to grow, it is important to understand that no matter how simple something may appear that the, time and work people put in behind the scene is strenuous. To conclude, the journey of a banana from the production to consumption stage not only shows the process but also highlights important social and economic stages that impact the people and environment around them.

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