WASHINGTON – This National Banana Day, April 20, Fairtrade America – an independent, third party certification that partners with farmers and workers in countries historically disadvantaged by trade to negotiate better prices, decent working conditions, and a fairer deal overall – calls for greater support for the more than 450 million people around the world whose livelihoods depend on banana and plantain farming.
Bananas account for an estimated global export value of $7 billion per year, making them both the world’s most popular fruit and one of the most economically essential. In the U.S. specifically, a 2020 study found that Americans ate 27.22 pounds of bananas per capita, significantly more than any other fruit. The U.S. remains the largest, single-country importer of fresh bananas, yet, Americans were paying only, on average, about $0.62/pound for bananas in 2021, leaving producers to shoulder the burden of increasing costs to get bananas in our supermarkets.
Many banana producers are losing money on each banana sold. They are confronted with sharp and repeated price increases triggered by the escalating cost of fertilizers and the ongoing supply chain crisis, which has increased prices for packaging, pallets, inland freight, custom fees and more. While importers and retailers have increased the amount they are paying for bananas, it has not been enough. Without a fair deal, the 800,000 families across Latin American and the Caribbean who rely on the industry for work will face financial impacts on their business and livelihoods that could be devastating. These impacts could include a lack of funds to invest in climate change resilience sustainability improvements; techniques to help increase production; and efficient water use.
On Jan. 12, 2022, the Ministers of Agriculture from seven Latin American banana producing countries – Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, and Honduras – came out in vocal support of banana producers in a joint statement sounding the alarm over pricing that is taking a toll on smallholder farmers, agricultural workers, rural communities and the environment, and calling upon businesses to align with Fairtrade’s approach to trade and its system of minimum price setting. The call from these governments for shared social responsibility across the supply chain shed a direct light on the ongoing price crisis affecting banana producers.
“Bananas are hands down the world’s most popular fruit, and are an essential cornerstone of many countries’ economies,” shared Peg Willingham, executive director of Fairtrade America. “It is imperative that all actors in the supply chain do their part to rebalance trade and make it a system rooted in partnership rather than exploitation.”
Fairtrade and its Commercial Partners Demonstrate Steps in the Right Direction
Fairtrade works to ensure farmers and workers are able to reap the benefits of booming banana demand and do not disproportionately bear rising production costs through unfairly low prices for their crops.
Specifically, Fairtrade sets a Minimum Price that producers must be paid per box (nearly 40 pounds each), plus an extra USD$1 per box in Fairtrade Premium, which Fairtrade certified Producer Organizations use to invest in projects of their choice for their business or community. This latest increase in the Fairtrade Minimum Price took effect on contracts Jan. 1, 2022, in response to producers facing a financial squeeze, and averaged at an 8% increase. Fairtrade prices and other Standards to protect workers’ rights, such as required contracts and freedom to organize, give farmers and workers stability throughout the year, so they are better equipped to weather other market changes.
Key Fairtrade commercial partners have also demonstrated significant commitments to supporting banana farmers and workers in recent years, including:
Coliman Fairtrade Sociocultural Complex. Coliman Group operates in a way that both recognizes the importance of a fair deal for farmers, and also preserves and protects the planet. Last summer, Grupo AGGALL-Coliman and Fairtrade inaugurated the first stage of the “Fairtrade Sociocultural Complex,” a community center located in Tecomán, Colima, Mexico, that will benefit 5,200 people with high-quality sports facilities and a safe space to enjoy community activities. The investment in the land and infrastructure of USD$1 million was made by the agricultural workers themselves with the additional Premium they received from the Fairtrade purchases of bananas administered through the Fairtrade Foundations “Familia Coliman A.C.” and “Don Jorge A.C.” In addition to the center, Coliman employees across Mexico are working on numerous other projects. These are in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – namely, quality education, health, community development, environment and sustainable projects.
Equal Exchange Educates Consumers. All bananas may look the same on a store shelf, but not all bananas are created equal. That was the message behind Equal Exchange’s annual March Banana Month campaign, through which the 16-year-old company directly educated consumers about its unique supply chain, encouraging shoppers to choose more equitable bananas. Founded on the premise that power in trade should be shared with farmers, Equal Exchange is certified Fairtrade and establishes long-term trading relationships with farmer co-ops using the Fairtrade minimum as a base price and negotiating annually with producers to determine a sustainable price. Via partnerships with retailers willing to pay more for a sustainable product, like FreshDirect, Equal Exchange is able to maintain its people-first commitments, providing a strong case for partnership throughout the supply chain to make trade more equitable.
In addition, Fairtrade works with producers and commercial partners to make real progress toward living incomes and living wages. Last year, Fairtrade set requirements that large scale farming operations pay their workers at least 70 percent of their country’s living wage benchmark – even if the country’s minimum wage is lower. And currently, Producer Organizations can choose to have up to 30% of workers’ Fairtrade Premium funds paid out directly to further increase their incomes. However, achieving incomes and wages that fully support decent livelihoods will require actors across the supply chain to contribute their support.
How can Americans help
Fairtrade encourages shoppers to look for the Fairtrade Mark when shopping for bananas to ensure the farmers and workers behind those bananas get a fair deal. Furthermore, if bananas with the Mark are hard to find, Fairtrade encourages shoppers to ask their favorite retailers to make a change and source produce from one of Fairtrade America’s certified brand partners. On National Banana Day, Wednesday, April 20, Fairtrade America will also share an inspiring message on Instagram in hopes to inspire its supporters to share, demonstrating their own personal commitment to and support of banana farmers and workers worldwide.
Bananas hold a special place in the Fairtrade system. The first Fairtrade banana was sold 25 years ago, and today there are now more than 250 Fairtrade certified Producer Organizations and farms in 16 countries, with more than 36,000 farmers and workers.
“To ensure another 25 years of fairness in the banana trade, we will continue to pursue social justice through partnership with brands and retailers, advocacy in support of fairer trade practices and regulations, and taking our cues from the farmers and workers at the foundation of the supply chain who deserve a fair deal,” continued Willingham.
ABOUT FAIRTRADE AMERICA
Fairtrade America works to rebalance trade, making it a system rooted in partnership and mutual respect rather than exploitation. It’s about businesses, shoppers, farmers and workers all partnering so we can all experience the benefits of trade. Fairtrade America is the US chapter of Fairtrade International, the original and global leader in fair trade certification with more than 30 years of experience working for fair trading practices in more than 30 countries across the globe. A non-profit 501(c)3 organization, Fairtrade America is the world’s largest and most recognized fair trade system—part of a global movement for change. Learn more at fairtradeamerica.org, and by connecting with Fairtrade America on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.