29 Jan 2021

Watch now: Fairtrade Banana Talks – Resilience and Fairness in times of COVID-19

COVID-19 added to the many challenges banana producers were already confronted with: from balancing increased sustainability requirements with a strong price pressure, to climate change. On 19 January, we gathered different actors across banana supply chains to discuss what are the main challenges and risks producers are facing.

Going beyond the immediacy of the pandemic, we discussed some of the underlying issues in this industry, and the need for long term measures and behavioral change. Below are some of the main takeaways plus the full webinar recording, should you want to dive deeper into the topic.

1. COVID-19 and its associated costs. Should it be a shared burden?

Even if banana sales have remained stable during the pandemic, our speakers reminded us of the strong impact and burden COVID-19 has put on producers to ensure business continuity. Dario Soto Abril, CEO of Fairtrade International, mentioned that in order to keep workers and their communities safe, producers had to heavily invested in prevention and protection.

Marike de Peña, Director of BANELINO, echoed this point and drew attention to the fact that so far many of all these extra costs have been taken up almost exclusively by producers. She called on the industry to discuss how to share the extra burden with supply chain actors.

In light of this, Dario mentioned that last year Fairtrade initiated a variety of measures to support producers during this time, from a more flexible use of premium, to a dedicated covid-19 relief and resilience fund.

As an example of new measures, Hans-Willem van der Waal, CEO of Agrofair (the world’s first importer of Fairtrade bananas into Europe and market leader in Fairtrade tropical fruit), added that to support producers they took advantage of the price drop in oils, as shipping costs went down. Which meant they could give suppliers an extra compensation per box.

2. Juggling price pressure versus increased certification requirements

Emily Young, Junior Buyer Exotics and Bananas, from Co-op (the first Fairtrade banana retailer in the UK), reassured that demand for bananas remained rather stable last year compared to other crops. But, that they also saw (with the exception of Fairtrade) prices of bananas dropping even more. Which is troublesome in a period where producers need more income to cope with the extra costs.

Furthermore, Marike added that one other burden producers have is the need for a variety of certifications with standards that often duplicate requirements. This means the cost of certifications are also duplicated.

Going deeper into the issue, Hans-Willem posed that all the challenges we see in banana production derive from the agro-industrial exploitation model the banana industry is based on. He added that if retailers are committed to living wages and acknowledge that something needs to be done, switching 100% to Fairtrade would be a highly logical step.

Emily also stated that changing the mindset of retail buyers and the race to the bottom is the conundrum. She recommended that those who seek to protect the future of banana trade adopt Fairtrade sourcing to ensure a fair future for the people and the planet.

3. The road to climate change adaptation

COVID-19 might have been a surprise last year, but climate change was certainly not. With bananas being a non-stop business, 52 weeks a year, they are particularly vulnerable to climate change itself. Marike outlined that according to a study conducted by the EU, the cost of climate change is almost one dollar per box in the Dominican Republic, which is of course extremely high.

She highlighted that with all Fairtrade producers, organic and conventional, they try to integrate more agro-ecological practices, with the aim to achieve higher sustainability, but also to reduce costs and increased resilience to climate change.

Interested in more? Watch the webinar recording.