Banana prices have always been too low

The following short article appeared in a Banana Link blog dated 12th December 2020. It was written by Angelica Hicks and Emily Gove who work for Equal Exchange Produce, a US for-profit organisation, similar in aims and practices to the UK’s Traidcraft and the UK’s Equal Exchange Trading. We are grateful to Angelica, Emily and Equal Exchange for permission to reproduce the article here and we urge our readers to visit the Equal Exchange website at: . We are also grateful to Banana Link whose website is at: .

By Angelica Hicks and Emily Gove
Equal Exchange Produce

December 2020

In the past two days, Del Monte, Dole and Chiquita have announced their intentions to add surcharges to their banana contracts in the US, following extensive damage to their operations in Central America as a result of hurricanes Eta and Iota. The news is making ripples across fresh produce publications and, very likely, produce industry boardrooms, and for good reason. It has the potential to force a conversation that is long overdue.

Equal Exchange Produce, a Fairtrade, organic importer in the US, has worked with small-scale farmer cooperatives for 15 years. Our banana partners work in Ecuador and Peru, and supply a relatively specialised market within the US, largely made up of independent, cooperative and natural foods stores. As a brand, we have often been alone in raising the topic of exploitative banana prices, in a market demanding both availability and cosmetics at a price that sustains neither of the two.

The reality is this: bananas are a labour-intensive crop. Any banana you find in a grocery store in the US[1] – whether conventional or organic – has been cut down from its plant in a massive cluster, carried on a shoulder, pulled to a pack shed, washed multiple times, cut into perfect bunches, stickered, packed and inspected, all by hand. The many people that contribute to the banana production process are also those that bear the consequences of low prices, which large retailers and conventional banana companies push down the supply chain until they land on the shoulders of farmers and workers.

The devastating hurricanes in Central America, which have destroyed upwards of 12,000 hectares in banana cultivation and impacted livelihoods across the region, are an important reason to pay more for bananas now. Still, it’s a shame that it takes a crisis of this magnitude to force a meaningful price increase, despite the well-documented externalised costs borne almost entirely by producer communities.

In the US consumers are conditioned to think that bananas are inherently cheap. What they don’t know is the impact of artificially low prices, or the precarious position in which they place farmers and workers.

Equal Exchange will continue to push for sustainable prices across the industry. We hope this moment signals a turning point in the industry conversation about the price – and value – of bananas.

[1]  And in the UK, we might add.