Bananas are believed to be the first cultivated fruit and are currently the world’s most consumed and exported fruit. Along with plantains, they are the fourth most important staple crop globally, helping to maintain food and nutritional security for 400 million people in producing countries.
But banana supply chains are very vulnerable to disruptions in the global economy, such as those caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Russia-Ukraine conflict, and variations in fossil fuel prices. Producers also face increasing environmental challenges due to climate change. What’s more, very little genetic diversity on banana plantations puts them at particular risk of pests and diseases, which can be exacerbated during extreme weather. For example, Tropical Race 4 is a deadly fungus found in soils that poses a threat to banana plantations and risks wiping out entire banana varieties.
Our research shows that banana producers are most affected by market disruptions. Recent crises have led to higher costs across all inputs in the banana supply chain, putting banana producers under increasing financial pressure.
However, voluntary sustainability standards (VSSs) such as GlobalG.A.P., the Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade International, and Organic can help build producers’ resilience to such challenges in the banana sector. They are adopting measures to ensure banana farmers and workers are better remunerated, such as by setting minimum prices, paying premiums to cover the costs of sustainable production, and offering base wages to farmers. They are also supporting them in improving their resilience to climate change—for example, by requiring farmers to adopt soil preservation measures to maintain soil moisture and fertility, which can help the soil cope with periods of drought.
But responsibility for picking up the costs of more sustainable growing practices must be shared across industry actors at all levels of the banana supply chain. For example, retailers can play their part by committing to paying fairer prices for bananas and establishing long-term partnerships with producers. Governments can help improve producers’ knowledge of—and access to—sustainable growing practices and market prices. And regional networks and associations, such as worker unions, can advocate for higher prices for producers.
More than 1 million workers
More than 1 million workers were employed in the export banana sector in 2020.
400 million people
Bananas and plantains are essential to maintaining food and nutritional security for over 400 million people in producing countries.
USD 25 billion industry
The banana sector is a growing USD 25 billion industry that is projected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.5% between 2022 and 2027.
10 million tonnes
In 2019, some 15,000 farmers produced at least 10 million tonnes of VSS-compliant bananas, with a farm gate value of more than USD 2 billion.
VSS-compliant bananas represented at least 9% of the total global production of bananas in 2019
VSS-compliant production grew at a CAGR of 32%–35% between 2008 and 2019. But this growth looks to be slowing, with the CAGR dropping to 8%–10% from 2014 to 2019.
The largest banana companies are committed to sustainable sourcing
In 2019, the four largest banana companies (Chiquita, Fyffes, Dole Food, and Fresh del Monte) accounted for just over 40% of global banana exports and claimed progress in sustainable sourcing volumes, although there is a lack of full transparency in sourcing details.
VSS-compliant banana production volumes in 2019
The most prominent VSSs in the banana sector in 2019 were GlobalG.A.P. (10.7 million tonnes), Rainforest Alliance (9.24 million tonnes), Organic (1.87 million tonnes), and Fairtrade International (1.24 million tonnes).
Higher prices for VSS-compliant bananas
Banana producers in major exporting countries associated with at least one VSS may have received prices more than 60% higher than those selling conventional bananas when selling as such—and those with double certification of Fairtrade and Organic received more than double the conventional average price.
Distribution of banana production in the top 15 producing countries in 2019
Many major banana-producing countries, including India and China, are lagging behind in VSS-compliant production. Most VSS-compliant production is taking place in South America, in countries such as Guatemala, Colombia, and Costa Rica