With a market share of 28%, Ecuador is undisputedly the largest banana producer and exporter in the world. The Philippines is a distant second with 11%. Ecuador lives and breathes bananas! One million people depend on the sector. That’s as much as 6% of the entire population. The total acreage of banana plantation is around 210,000 hectares. That’s almost 50 times more than the acreage of flowers. It can get a little overwhelming, especially when you’re driving from Quito to harbour town Guayaquil – nothing but green for miles on end.
It might seem strange, but I’d never visited one of these plantations. Until last week. Friends I knew from the rose sector decided to switch a few years ago, first to palm oil and later to bananas. They’d invited us ages ago, but because of the distance (3.5 hours from Quito) and Covid-19, we hadn’t made it over to their plantation yet.
When we finally visited them last week, they happily showed us around. After their tour, we knew all the ins and outs of the business: from the propagation, covering the bunches with bags and harvesting 13 weeks later. When the bunches arrive at the processing line via a cableway system (which has been copied by the flower industry), they are divided into ‘hands’ of at least four, but no more than seven ‘fingers’.
The smaller sizes go to Europe, the larger ones to North America. Once the fruits are washed and labelled, they’re boxed and loaded into the ocean container the same day. After a 2-4-week journey, they arrive at their destination. Just a few days in the local ripening chambers, and they’re ready to hit the shelves!
Apart from some challenges with logistics and staff, the sector wasn’t really affected by the coronavirus pandemic. There seemed to be no end to the fat years. 80% of all bananas come from small farms with less than 30 hectares of land. To ensure they get a fair price, the government decides each year what the fixed (minimum) contract price should be.
For this year, it was set at $6.25 per 18-kg box (roughly €0.07 per banana). However, the farmers don’t have to commit to contract sales, they can also choose to sell their produce against bargain prices. For a while, that was the more lucrative option. But lately, bargain prices have been dropping, they’re currently as low as $2.50. Ouch! Price fluctuation is something we know all about in the flower sector.
But after rain comes sunshine, and that’s another thing we know all about!
Victor van Dijk,
Area manager Latin America, FM Group
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