The World Banana Forum consolidates and celebrates the achievements of industry cooperation

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The recent third conference of the World Banana Forum attracted over 300 delegates from 42 countries across all continents to Geneva, with all key players along the chain, from plantation and packhouse workers to global retailers, very well represented.  The four-day event was hosted jointly by the UN Food & Agriculture Organisation, the International Labour Organisation and the federal government of Switzerland. 
 
The widely acclaimed success of the workshops and plenary conference demonstrates the growing reach and influence of the Forum, as well as the vital role of multi-stakeholder dialogue in tackling the challenges of creating genuine sustainability within the industry. 
 
Participants represented a balance of all players involved in banana production and trade: small-, medium- and large-scale growers’ organisations, workers’ unions, exporters, importers, retailers, civil society from consumer countries, scientists and research institutions as well as governments and inter-governmental organisations. 
 
The main issues on the global agenda are gender equity, labour rights, occupational health and safety, sustainable production systems, building climate resilience, fair distribution of value. The last day was taken up with a participatory inter-continental workshop on combating the spread of the TR4 disease that threatens to wipe out virtually the whole of world trade in dessert bananas. 
 
The plenary conference was preceded by a very well-attended workshop on “Gender Equity in the Banana Industry”. This dynamic and inspiring all-day session, attended by almost as many men as women from different parts of the industry, generated a practical set of proposals for the World Banana Forum on women’s empowerment, women’s employment, the gender pay gap, occupational health and safety and sexual harassment and gender-based violence.
 

Renwick Rose, Chairperson of the WBF Executive Board makes the opening address to the conference
 
The conference also celebrated the achievements that have resulted from the collaborative approach fostered by the WBF, including: 
  • A Manual on Occupational Health and Safety, launched at the Conference by the Ecuadorean Minister of Labour, to train workers, company staff and growers.
  • A set of best practices for sustainable production.
  • A web portal from which these practices and other useful materials are easily accessible to all stakeholders.
  • A practical guide for measuring and reducing the carbon and water footprints of growers
  • A global multi-stakeholder Task Force to combat Fusarium wilt Tropical Race 4, influence key industry players and collaborate with global programmes against banana diseases.
  • A search for a commonly agreed method for calculating decent standards of living for workers at exporting-country level.
  • The facilitation of successful labour relations dialogue in Peru and West Africa
Reflecting on the conference, Alistair Smith, Banana Link’s International Coordinator said! “After three frustrating years where various governments expressed interest in hosting then pulled away from the challenge for various reasons, I think we can safely say that the collective energy to raise the level of cooperation between the diverse players is now there. In the days since we were all in Geneva there is a flurry of collaborative proposals and activity on almost all fronts. We trust that this is maintained and turned into a whole lot more tangible changes that could make this globalised sector a model for others.
 
Reflecting on some very significant positions taken by industry leaders in the World Banana Forum on the necessary direction of research and development into more agro-ecological systems for bananas sold onto the global market - but also for the tens of millions of small-scale farmers across the tropical and sub-tropical belt of Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America - Smith added:
 
Bananas and plantains are so vital for the food security of hundreds of millions that it would be highly irreponsible at this critical juncture in the industry’s nearly 150 year old history to reproduce an industrial mono-culture system, especially in these times of climate de-regulation. If genetically engineering TR4-resistance is the only possible technological remedy on offer in the near future to ‘rescue’ the current paradigm, then we need to change the paradigm not reproduce the risks that the transgenic soy disaster of the last 15 years demonstrates only too painfully.
 
With all due respect to the scientists involved and to the goodwill of their funders, we are at a crossroads in history that requires us to move away from the chemical-dependent revolution of the 20th century to rapid adoption of sophisticated biological practices that work with natural systems rather than deliberately excluding almost all other species and micro-organisms from the land where bananas grow. 
 
The scientists gathered in Geneva were unequivocal in telling us that this transformation is not only necessary, but is also entirely possible.  A good start will be to eliminate all insecticides and nematicides in existing export production. This will rid us all, especially workers, of the unacceptable hazard of some of the most toxic molecules known to humanity.
 
 
Further reading
 
Banana Link will provide a more detailed reaction to and analysis of the Conference in our next Banana Trade News Bulletin, due for publication in December 2017. You can sign up to receive the buletin here