A world of bananas!
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CTA. 1998. A world of bananas!. Spore 74. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/49023
Internet URL: http://spore.cta.int/images/stories/pdf/old/spore74.pdf
In 1996, the European banana import regime was under attack by the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
In 1996, the European banana import regime was under attack by the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The United States, supported by three major multinational corporations in the banana industry along with four Latin American countries, placed pressure on Europe to comply with trade obligations regarding its banana import regime, as they deemed it was functioning illegally. There will be many meetings and consultations in the coming year culminating in a vote on modifying fundamental rules of the Common Market Organization for Bananas (CMOB), which had been adopted at Marrakech in 1995. The new legislation may be very detrimental to member states of the ACP. The possibilities for growth of ACP member states, traditional suppliers to Europe, is dependent upon current negotiations regarding repartition of quotas. The extent of the current socioeconomic crisis, which could prompt WTO to take corrective measures, is already quite alarming for other Caribbean countries where banana production is the main resource (particularly, for example, Dominica, St Lucia, and Jamaica). Indeed, for several years now, these countries have suffered from diminished competitivity because they have not made needed structural changes. However, opportunities for diversification exist, these include: the opening up of other markets, reinvigoration of local markets, amelioration of channels of production and commercialization of high quality products such as organic bananas and the fair trade banana. But it is wise to be realistic, the roads to diversification, although realizable, are not without their challenges. World trade figures for bananas account for only 13.3 tonnes of bananas (FAO, 1996). Whereas 80% of all bananas produced worldwide go to domestic markets. In most producing countries, bananas are very popular and used in a variety of local dishes. Both in terms of production and consumption, plantain is at the top of the popularity hit list. It literally provides food security for millions of people. Of the 28.3 million tonnes of plantain produced worldwide, 69.4% is destined for human consumption, 11.1% processed and 8% fed to livestock. More than 60% of this world volume is produced and consumed in central and western Africa. Plantain production is targeted for domestic consumption and thus marketed according to traditional strategies. The plantain trade is closely tied to urban market trends, with demand rising steadily as the population grows. This trade is also dependent on the marketing subsector organisation - transporters, wholesalers, retailers - which varies from country to country. Plantain is transported from plantation to market in a variety of ways, e.g. on labourers' backs, in a refrigerated lorry, by canoe and on bicycles. In Ghana, market retailers and traders go to the plantations or villages themselves to purchase plantain supplies from farmers with whom they have established agreements. Whole bunches are placed in baskets; banana hands and fingers are put in bags and carried out manually to the road. A lorry driver is then paid to transport the fruit to market, and collector-wholesalers often arrange the lorry transport operation. The bananas are sold to middlemen or traders, who sell them to retailers, who in turn sell them to consumers in bunches or separate fingers. The complexity of the intermediary subsector increases proportionally around distribution hubs with the distance between production and supply markets, especially when the approach routes are in good shape. This trend is well established in Caribbean countries such as St Vincent, whereas it is just emerging in Africa. For instance, jobbers group around important markets in southwestern Cameroon (Mile 60, Bole and Owe). The banana plantations are quite remote from Douala (100-150 km), not easily accessible, and often impassable in the rainy season. Large quantities of plantain are delivered to the city markets on a daily basis via regular distribution channels, and the longest one involves three main types of middleman: collector-wholesalers (purchasing 50-500 bunches from the producers), sedentary wholesalers, who sell to retailers on a per-bunch basis in the wholesale and retail markets of Douala, and these retailers in turn sell to consumers or other retailers on a per-finger basis. Middlemen have a key role in the plantain marketing subsector - from the wholesaler to the retailer. As this domain becomes increasingly complex, growers are forced to produce greater quantities of higher-quality plantain, more regularly, and at lower cost. Production criteria are gathered by middlemen on the basis of information they obtain on selling prices, consumer demand and market trends. By professionalizing the subsector, the most organized of these go-betweens (dealers, transport agents, etc.) could become key stakeholders and thereby influence domestic market patterns. Reducing postharvest losses As domestic consumer demand is constantly increasing, local market dynamics depend on producers' capacity to maintain adequate sustainable production levels, while staving off postharvest banana losses. The most common cropping practice involves extending yearly production over as long a period as possible. Soil potential is crucial for the success of this strategy. In Cameroon and Rwanda, on volcanic soils in the Dominican Republic, and on river alluvia in the humid intertropical zone, plantain growers have adopted a sustainable production strategy, and this crop is often their main source of income. In Ghana, consumer demand for plantain is high and its retail price is steadily rising, however production has been stagnant for 10 years. This situation could be turned around by planting high yield, strongly pest and disease resistant, cultivars. Postharvest plantain losses are generally heavy and are estimated at about 3 million tonnes worldwide. These losses are due to poor harvest and handling conditions, in addition to a shortage of distribution channels (e.g. Côte d'Ivoire). The quality of communications networks is also an important factor. In most African countries, access routes to markets are in poor condition and poorly maintained, except around large urban centres. For instance, farmers in Rusitu valley in Zimbabwe produce high volumes of dessert bananas. They lose a substantial portion of their overall production during the rainy season because of the very long distances along poor roads that have to be travelled to the nearest urban markets. The EU has set up a system whereby farmers can rent vehicles to facilitate getting to local markets. Still, asphalting the roads represents the most efficient way of promoting trade to external markets. Cameroon is a case in point, there are now paved roads allowing comparatively easy access to the main markets and the capital.