Through the banana plants we get a glimpse of something purple. It’s Roberto Yarigsicha, waving his machete.
He noticed we are driving too far along the dirt road through the banana plantation called Bélen 2.
He is one of two full-time employees at Luis Lucero’s organic banana farm. Eight hours a day, five days a week, he walks from plant to plant on the five hectares of the farm, cleaning them from dry leaves, making sure they are well. Five hectares is considered a medium size plantation.
– We have been officially organic for three years now, but we’ve always used organic methods of agriculture. We just haven’t been certified until now, Roberto says.
The plantation is a member of the co-op Asoguabo. About a third of the bananas the cooperative exports are organic. Most of Ecuador’s organic farmers are organised in some kind of cooperative. It is hard to sell organic bananas alone.
I can tell we are on an organic plantation, where no harmful deterrents are used.
I can feel it. The mosquito bites are swelling up on my arms and legs.
I can hear it. The birds are singing, the crickets playing.
I can see it. The mosquitoes are swarming around us, snails live on the branches of the banana plants, larvae are crawling up a cocoa fruit growing in the midst of the bananas.
On a conventional farm, they wouldn’t have survived amongst all the chemicals.
– This bag shows you that it’s an organic farm, says Roberto, pointing with his machete towards a green plastic bag hanging above us.
It covers a stem of bananas. It protects them from insects, but it doesn’t contain chemicals like the blue bags of conventional plantations.
– As soon as the banana gets a tiny little scratch, the insects come. That’s why it has to be protected, says Roberto.
A black ribbon is attached to the bag. It means the bananas will be harvested this week. Roberto lifts the plastic and lets me peek inside. High up there i can see the green bananas.
– We have eight colours of ribbons. The colour shows when it’s time to harvest the bananas.
Every week eight part-time workers harvest 200 boxes of bananas from this plantation. One box weighs 18,14 kilos. But that figure is only correct at this particular moment, as long as it’s hot and the bananas ripen quickly.
– Other times of year we harvest around 120 boxes or so, Roberto says.
That’s why it’s good to be a part of Fair Trade. The market price fluctuates according to production and demand. Sometimes it’s 8 dollars a box, sometimes only 2. Fair Trade always pays 5,25 dollars a box. This means that the producers always know how much they will earn.
Dry, brown banana leafs are cracking under our feet, and fresh, green ones are filtering the sunlight above us. Amongst the banana plants we see a cocoa tree.
– Taste it, says Roberto, opening a cocoa fruit with his machete.
A tinge of cocoa, yes, but hadn’t I known, I would never have guessed what fruit I was tasting.
Close to the tree a bunch of brown bananas are lying on the ground, covered in banana flies. It doesn’t look very tempting, but Roberto picks one up and gives it to me. Under the brown skin the banana is ripe and yellow, just like the ones we buy in the supermarkets in Europe.
– Bien madura, nice and ripe, says Roberto.
A metal cable runs through the plantation. It’s for transporting the banana stems to the packing site. We follow it all the way to the packing site where four men are packing bananas. They bathe the bananas in water, part the stems into smaller bunches, pack them into cardboard boxes and put stickers on them before they are loaded into the truck that will take them to the port, 30 kilometres away.
Roberto picks up a pile of plastic bags with writing in norwegian. He holds one up for me to see.
– That’s me, he says, laughing.
And yes, there he is, looking at me with a serious face, from a bag of Fair Trade organic bananas. Under his picture I can read: ”Because I work under Fair Trade conditions, I am insured and can save money for my children’s education”.
The workers who work at a Fair Trade plantation are included in social security, and their children receive an annual package of school supplies. Fair Trade also stipulates a minimum wage, but it’s much lower than the wage the workers actually receive.The minimum hasn’t been revised in many years.