In an industry that has always been dominated by labor-intensive, large-scale production, the struggle for small-scale producers to stay in the market has always seemed like David and Goliath. The farmers of the three Windward Islands in the Caribbean have all the comparative disadvantages in the textbook, but, thanks to their strategy to market their bananas as Fairtrade, several thousand have managed to sustain livelihoods against almost all the odds.
But the arrival of Black Sigatoka fungal disease and repeated climatic disasters risk putting them out of business for good. Yet another devastating storm this Christmas has left 700 of them without a livelihood and in need of external support to rehabilitate their one or two hectare farms.
Unfortunately, they sell into the most ‘value-stripped’ market in the world. The British market used to be the best for producers a decade or so ago, but all that has changed since Asda and WalMart decided to fight their retail competitors with low banana pricing in 2002. The U.K. is now an even worse place for many growers, large or small, to sell their fruit than Germany.
Neither market now allows a fair share of value to be returned to growers and their employees. Rising costs for growers simply have to be swallowed and any margin is sacrificed to the greater need to remain a supplier. Operate at a loss or get out, seems to be the market’s message.
Reade the full opinion piece written by Alistair Smith, Banana Link's International Coordinator, and published in Fresh Fruit Portal.