Caribbean bananas are generally produced by small family owned farms using more sustainable methods of production than those used on the large monoculture plantations in Latin America. This does however exclude some of the larger Caribbean countries such as the Dominican Republic where bananas are also produced on medium-scale plantations.
The banana trade has been crucial to the economies of the Caribbean region. Banana plantations were established over 50 years ago by the British. According to the Fairtrade Foundation, 50% of the population on the Windward Islands are employed by the banana trade and it contributes 50% of the total export revenue. The banana industry provides crucial foreign exchange for investment in social and economic development. However, over the past twenty years, the Windward Islands' share of the UK banana market has fallen to just 9% and the number of farmers has dropped from 27,000 to just 3,500. This has led to an increase in unemployment on the islands, partly because farms have struggled to compete with the 'cheap' bananas from Latin America.
At the moment almost 85% of bananas imported from the islands to the UK carry the Fairtrade mark which means that a significant number of farmers, together with their families and their communities, already benefit from belonging to the Fairtrade system. WINFA (Windwards Islands Farmers Association), and the farmers they represent, believe that Fairtrade and the support of the British consumers for Caribbean bananas is their only hope for survival. Sainsburys have converted 100% of their banana supplies to Fairtrade and have made a commitment to source at least 40% from small farmer associations.
In Jamaica, the industry is based around two large plantations and a reduced number of small farmers. Following a series of natural disasters, the country stopped exporting bananas to Europe for 6 years, however, in 2014 exports to the continent were reinstated.
The Dominican Republic has recently overtaken Cameroon as the ACP's (African, Caribbean and Pacific group of states) largest banana exporter. The industry has more than doubled in size over the last decade and now employs some 32,000 people. All the expansion has taken place in the North West province, which benefits from free trade zone status. Moreover, around 88% of production is organic. The majority of exports are to Europe, where they have established a leading position in the organic and Fairtrade markets.
The liberalised EU import regime is likely to affect the region, the farmers and their communities’ futures. There are concerns that the reducted tariffs on Latin American imports agreed in 2009 means that Europe will be completely taken over by cheaper fruit from Latin America, which already supplies some 80% of EU banana imports. It will become almost impossible for small Caribbean countries like the Windward Islands to compete with 'dollar bananas' from Latin America.
Support Caribbean banana farmers
Click here to find out how to get involved in Banana Link's campaign to support small Caribbean banana farmers.
Photos: Winward Islands 2006 (by Danny Wilson)
Bananas in Dom. Republic (Banana Link)