Fairtrade bananas entered the European market in 1996. Today bananas are one of Fairtrade’s most successful products. In 2016, sales totalled 579,081 MT – up 5 percent on 2015. This generated tangible benefits for 147 Fairtrade certified banana producer organizations in 16 countries, which collectively received over €28.5 million in Fairtrade Premium funds.
The Fairtrade Minimum Price has offered economic stability to Fairtrade banana producer organizations and the Fairtrade Premium (US$1.00/box) has helped finance a variety of support services – increased productivity, health, education, housing and more.
Some important challenges remain – notably the low productivity level of many small producers, heightened by climate change. Fairtrade’s priority is threefold: help strengthen organizations’ governance; improve productivity and efficiency, and advise on the strategic investment of Fairtrade Premium funds.
In 2016, Premium funds were used to develop and improve systems to help banana farmers become more resilient to climate change. We also focused on strengthening the position of hired workers on banana plantations. Fifteen percent of the farmers and workers in the banana sector are women.
Producers in Latin America and the Caribbean produce 94 percent of Fairtrade bananas consumed worldwide – a specialization that called for intensive production.
But most banana production still depends on chemicals, which affect the microbiological balance of the soil and the wider environment. Ultimately, this leads to lower yields, increased costs and reduced effectiveness of traditional, non-chemical crop management.
To break this cycle, CLAC (the Latin American and Caribbean producer network) designed and implemented a productivity improvement programme in 2015.
It focused on improving agricultural practices at farm and organizational level and involved 20 small-scale banana producer organizations from Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, the Dominican Republic and the Windward Islands.
The outcomes were very positive: soil health and fertility improved; productivity rose almost a third by 2017, and the leaf emission rate increase cut the cost of weed control and irrigation in half. In addition, control cycles for the leaf spot disease, black sigatoka, were reduced by 50 percent. Chemical application is no longer needed.
We hope this project can now be replicated in other regions with other products.
The majority of Fairtrade bananas are produced by small-scale farmers but the number of larger Fairtrade certified banana plantations has been increasing steadily – up to 56 in 2016.
Employers must comply with the Fairtrade Standard for Hired Labour, which demands decent labour conditions. Fairtrade requires certified plantations to pay workers at least the regional average or national minimum wage and then increase real wages annually.
To further improve the position of hired workers in plantations and enable them to negotiate better wages, Fairtrade is partnering with labour rights movements across different regions.
In Ghana and Cameroon, Fairtrade works with the largest international agricultural union (IUF), BananaLink, and local unions on workers’ rights, collective bargaining agreements, and collaboration between unions.
But we want to go further. Fairtrade is determined to increase the wages of banana plantation workers as part of our efforts to support workers’ rights. Living wage benchmarks for banana workers have already been calculated for the Dominican Republic, Ghana and Ecuador.
And we are working hard to close the gap between current wage levels and living wage benchmarks. This can help create a direct link between improved wages and Fairtrade Sales for plantation workers. It’s an ambitious strategic goal and we are conscious that we need to work with the various stakeholders in the banana industry, and the World Banana Forum, to make real progress.
Top image: Yupaisa from BANAFEM in the Dominican Republic. Image © Erika Santelices / Fairtrade International
 Leaf Emission Rate (LER) is a method of measuring the rate of evolution of banana leaves. When the temperature is lower in shade, LER is slower. This leads both to delays in yield and more than likely lower yields. Dold, C. (2007). Musa in Shaded Perennial Crops: Response to Light Interception. Available at: https://www.catie.ac.cr/attachments/article/551/Tesis-Grado-C-Dold-2007.pdf.
 CLAC (2017, September), Banana Newsletter. P.7. Available at: http://clac-comerciojusto.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Newsletter-Banana-September-2017-ok.pdf.