Almost all African countries produce a significant amount of bananas, but only a few actually export them. West African countries produce nearly all of Africa's banana exports. Production in this region has grown rapidly over the past 15 years, for example, Côte d'Ivoire banana exports account for 3.1% of the global trade. The vast majority of these bananas are sold in Europe, mainly in France and the UK.
Until the end of the 1980s, a sector of small farmers still existed in Ivory Coast, but the privatisation of the government marketing board and the new quality demands of the single EU market led to their disappearance from the international market. In the 1990s, banana and pineapple production in West Africa came to be dominated by two multinational companies (Dole/Compagnie Fruitière and Del Monte).
It was the establishment of the EU’s 1993 banana regime and its duty-free access that attracted fruit company investment and enabled Cameroon and the Ivory Coast to restructure and expand their banana industries. The Ivory Coast tripled its exports between 1988 and 2000, whilst exports from Cameroon doubled over the same period. However, the WTO Geneva Agreement on bananas reached in December 2009 set out tariff reductions on EU banana imports from non-ACP (Africa, Caribbean and the Pacific) countries and this has affected trade in the region, as African-based producers find it harder to compete against 'cheap' Latin American bananas. According to the Autorité Portuaire Nationale (APN), in 2016, Cameroon banana exports dropped by 30,000 tonnes compared to 2015 figures.
Although workers' wages in Africa are lower than almost all countries in Latin America, production costs remain relatively high. This is mainly due to the lack of adequate infrastructure (road networks, communications and maritime transport) and variable quality due to climatic issues. For example, in Cameroon, chemical usage is nearly as high as in Central America.
In 2005, Compagnie Fruitière/Dole invested in new plantations in Ghana, joining an independent Fairtrade and organic plantation already in operation. The majority of banana workers in Ghana belong to a trade union and collective bargaining agreementrs are in place in both companies. In the other two main West African banana producing countries, Cameroon and the Ivory Coast, trade unions are relatively weak and do not bargain directly with the banana companies.
In Cameroon and the Ivory Coast, experimental programmes have been implemented with EU funding to increase the competitiveness of the industry whilst improving environmental practices. However, Ghana and Cameroon are the only countries in Africa so far to develop and export Fairtrade bananas successfully to the European market.
Summary of Ghana research, 2013 - a summary of the findings of field research carried out in 2013
Summary of Cameroon research, 2013 - a summary of the findings of field research carried out in 2013
A Study of the Pineapple Industry in Ghana, Banana Link 2010 - research exploring the working conditions for both local and migrant workers in this tropical fruit industry.
Summary of West Africa Mission report, by Banana Link and Peuples Solidaires, June 2011
Decent Work for African Plantation Workers, article by Alistair Smith of Banana Link for International Union Rights Journal, 2011
Sustainable Living Wages and the Impact of Fairtrade at Volta River Estates Limited Banana Plantation, Ghana, by Banana Link, September 2009.
Photo: West African Banana Worker, 2011 (Banana Link)