Latin America dominates the global banana economy, and it represents an important source of income for these countries. Latin American countries export to the United States, Canada, Europe, Russia and the Asia-Pacific region. The majority of Europe's bananas and pineapples come from countries in Latin America, like Ecuador which is the world’s largest banana exporter, Costa Rica which is the world's largest pineapple exporter, and Colombia.
Ecuador, Costa Rica, Colombia and other exporting countries in Central America are known as 'dollar banana' countries because they are traditionally exported to North America and produced by US multinational companies like Dole, Chiquita and Del Monte. These companies directly or indirectly control around 60 per cent of their banana exports.
Large scale production
Typically, Latin American bananas are grown on large-scale monoculture plantations, that use intensive methods such as high levels of chemical inputs to increase crop yield. Labour conditions are often very poor, with workers being required to work long hours at very low rates of pay; they earn on average around 250 to 300 pesos a day (around £4), and this doesn't even cover basic living costs. Rights of free association and collective bargaining are often denied and union busting is common in the region. The large plantations are also frequently responsible for damaging environmental impacts.
The monoculture plantations of Latin America (and increasingly Asia and Africa) can extend to over 2,000 acres and require massive capital investments in roads, drainage and irrigation, cable ways and packing facilities. These intensive production methods are reliant on the use of very large quantities of external inputs (fertilisers, pesticides, plastic, etc.) which result in very high yields - 50-80 tonnes per hectare compared with 8-20 tonnes per hectare in the Windward Islands.
Ecuador, Colombia and Peru are the only countries among the major Latin American exporters that still have a few thousand small banana farmers alongside the large-scale plantations. The smallholders fulfil a vital buffer function for the banana exporters. They buy from small producers when the demand on the international market is high, but if there is less demand for bananas, the small producers are often forced to sell their produce at a loss.
Despite damage caused to human and environmental health, the price of 'dollar' bananas in North America and Europe remains low and the social and environmental costs of the product are not reflected in the final price.
Foro Emaus, a Coalition of Costa Rican NGOs (Environmental, Human Rights, Indigenous People etc) Working Towards a More Sustainable Costa Rican Banana Industry
US Labor Education in the Americas Project (US/LEAP)
Corbana - National Banana Corporation of Costa Rica
Database of UPEB - Union of Banana Exporting Countries