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Tough year for some South American organic banana growers

Tough year for some South American organic banana growers

Tue May 01 2018


In an “unusual” year for some Central American bananas, growers have had a tough time supplying their customer’s needs consistently. However, small-scale farmers in Peru have been able to supply and export 52 weeks a year to the global market.


Alternative organic banana suppliers such as Equal Exchange, which partners with small-scale farmers organized into coops, are able to help sustain small plantations for the USA's two number one sellers: bananas and avocados through their business model. The US local market is strong, but Jessica Jones-Hughes says it doesn’t quite apply to products that are grown further away, but traceability gives the consumer a human connection to the product. “It’s been an amazing model, particularly in bananas because (growers) are exporting 52 weeks a year, particularly in Peru where the whole area was mostly controlled by large companies until the mid-2000s,” she says. “Producers started to take more control and now there are countless numbers of small producers organized together.”


While distribution is limited, they have a strong program in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the East Coast because Jones-Hughes says there’s a strong concentration of coops, independent stores, and natural food stores, which are their core account types. The organic bananas are sourced 50 percent from Ecuador and 50 percent from Peru. “Last year we experienced a lot of growth in the banana program. It basically doubled.”


This year was better than last year on the supply front. Jones-Hughes says they experienced many issues last year with El Nino and heavy rains in Peru. “On the producer end, this year supply has been strong for us. The issues that we have been seeing more are on the shipping front.” She says as the shipping industry continues to consolidate and more companies are using similar lines there’s been an increase in delays and skipped weeks because there wasn’t enough space on shipping vessels. “It’s led to some supply gaps on our end."


This winter in North America and Europe, the weather has been especially difficult which has impacted shipping and delivery schedules for some countries. Robert Adams of One Bananas continues to see significant demand and growth in the organic banana segment. “This is one of the reasons why we have invested in our new organic banana farms in Peru,” he says.



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