Unlike conventional bananas, which are relatively easy to grow in many tropical areas, organic bananas must be cultivated in very specific conditions, and this is only possible in a few regions. Colima, Mexico, is one of those regions with the right microclimate, and Tropical Organic Growers is a company devoted to the cultivation and export of organic tropical fruits, especially bananas.
"Bananas need plenty of water, about 3,000 mm of water per year, which they can easily get in the tropics. However, if you want to grow organic bananas, it is impossible to do it in such climates because our main concern, the Black Sigatoka fungi, thrives under these conditions; you cannot fight it in an organic way there. You have to move to areas with less moisture and less rainfall, but with plenty of water from rivers or underground sources, such as Colima, where there are 800 mm of rainfall per year, but plenty of water from rivers," explains the general director of Tropical Organic Growers.
The costs involved in producing organically are also higher. "Almost twice as expensive, because all the materials we buy have to be organic and these tend to be more expensive."
The producer affirms that there is an interesting demand for organic bananas. Compared with other organic fruits, such as blueberries, which typically cost more than three times as much as their conventional counterparts, organic bananas are only about twice as expensive as conventional bananas. Therefore, according to Rolo Leyton, they are a good starting point for those worried about their health. "We see that those wishing to start having a healthier lifestyle can easily start with bananas, with something cheap. I think that demand will grow to significant levels in the coming years, and that supply will struggle to keep up with it, given that there are not many places in the world where organic bananas can be grown. I estimate that there are about 5 million hectares of conventional bananas in the world, and about 50,000 hectares of organic bananas."
This difference has led to organic bananas being considered a niche product that would not be able to meet the existing demand if the supply of conventional bananas was reduced. "In the United States, for example, about 5% of the supply is organic. Imagine that there was a 10% drop in the conventional supply. This is double the volume of organic fruits shipped to the US, which would be impossible to cover," explains the general director.
Bananas can be grown all year round; this is one of the advantages of the fruit, in the opinion of the producer. However, he notes that there is a natural tendency for the production to be greater in the second half (60%) than in the first (40%) in Mexico. In the southern hemisphere, the opposite occurs.
"In the tropical fruits category, bananas account for 75-80% of the global trade. Second, are pineapples, with 10%, followed by mangoes and papayas. Mexico is a major exporter of mangoes and papayas. Pineapples are a key business in Costa Rica. Bananas are a major crop, with over 80,000 hectares, in Mexico, with production historically oriented towards the local market. Over the last ten years, exports have increased significantly. We believe that Mexico has great potential in the banana market and, being so close to the US, it could easily become an international supplier. Mexico supplies the United States with 60% of its papayas and 40% of its mango imports, so bananas should reach a good share; I think this currently stands at 2 or 3%," explains the producer.
Tropical Organic Growers
Tropical Organic Growers is a company founded in 2014 in Mexico. It is devoted to the production and export of organic tropical fruits, especially bananas. "It was an interesting opportunity to start a production company in Mexico oriented to the international market, particularly the US, but also Europe and Asia." Rolo states that they hired some of the most talented specialists in the industry, with over 15 years’ experience, and started producing in Colima, Mexico; a region with the right weather, soil, infrastructure and people, as well as one of the main ports of the Pacific ocean: Manzanillo, and a good network of roads to the US and the Atlantic Ocean.
"Our company started with about 150 hectares, as a test. We were very pleased with the results achieved in that first year and we continued to invest. Currently, we have 250 hectares and will buy another 250 this year. Our plan is to reach 1,500 hectares over the next 4 or 5 years. We want to become a great company specialised in organic products," assures Rolo.
"We export to the United States. As we grow, we would like to diversify into other markets and that would be a good time to start selling to Europe. I think we will start to export to Europe next year. The European market is very interesting and we want our share in it," he concludes.