Bananas are the world’s most popular fruit and one of the world’s most important staple foods, along with rice, wheat and maize. In 2011, 107 million metric tons of bananas were produced in more than 130 countries on 0.1 per cent of the world’s agricultural area1, for a total trade value of US$9 billion (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), 2013) and a retail value of approximately US$25 billion. Bananas have a high rate of domestic consumption, with only about 17 per cent of bananas exported to foreign markets annually. About two-thirds of bananas are exported from Latin America, with about the same amount destined for Europe or the United States (2011 data, FAO, 2013; see Table 5.1).
The banana market is characterized by heavy horizontal and vertical integration within the value chain and a low-cost and highly competitive export market focused in Latin America. Bananas are typically grown on plantations, and certain viruses, pests and fungi have spread in epidemic proportions over the last few decades, allegedly a result of decreased immunity created by monoculture practices (Mlot, 2004). Increased susceptibility has rendered banana plantations increasingly dependent on agrochemicals, which has led to concerns regarding worker health and safety2. It is in the context of these sustainability concerns that voluntary sustainability standards, including Fairtrade, Organic and Rainforest Alliance, have emerged over the past few decades. In total, 3 per cent of global banana production and 14 per cent of exports were standard-compliant in 20123 (see Figure 5.1, Conventional versus standard-compliant banana production, 2011/2012.). About three-quarters of standard-compliant bananas are cultivated in five countries: Guatemala, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic. See Figure 5.2 for a breakdown of standard compliant production in these countries.
1. [2011 agricultural land data: 4,911,622,000 hectares.]
2. [In turn, the extensive use of agrochemicals has given rise to the emergence of pest strains that are resistant to pesticides. The main fungal disease, black sigatoka, has been able to mutate and develop resistance to fungicides, posing a problem to plantation managers seeking to reduce agrochemical use (Liu, 2009).]
3. [Adjusted for multiple certification, using 2011 data for Organic bananas.]