23-year-old Freddy Arias is one of Asoguabo’s many small farmers. He started working on his father’s farm in Santa Isabel de Florida in the province Azuay when he was 18 years old, and inherited it when his father died.
The four hectare farm is on the slopes of the Andes. There’s no road to the farm. When it’s time to send the bananas to Europe, he carries them down himself on his shoulders, two at a time. Right now he produces 25 boxes a week, because it’s the rainy season and the demand is high. That means 13 times up and down the hill between the farm and the road, a 20 minute walk. It’s sunday when I meet him. Right now, he’s working seven days a week planting more bananas.
– One step at a time, to be able to fill a pallet with 48 boxes every week.
He has to do that in order not to be suspended from the cooperative next year. The European supermarkets demand that all boxes on a pallet come from the same farm.
Will you make the requirements?
– Yes, if I have time until next year. It takes nine months for a banana plant to start producing.
He has land to plant on, because he’s not using all of his farm for banana. He also grows some cacao. But you can only harvest cacao during part of the year. Those who only grow cacao have to look for other jobs the rest of the time. If you grow banana, you can work on your farm all year. And Arias wants to continue in the cooperative.
Another worry is the banana price. Asoguabo pays 7,40 dollars per box for his organic bananas. The price is higher than for conventional bananas, but it still doesn’t get him very far.
– I hire two workers on harvest day. That costs me 30 dollars a week. The embarcation process costs 30 dollars and the truck 5 dollars. If I produce 20 boxes a week, I make 140 dollars, which means I’m left with 74 dollars a week.
But next year, producing more banana, he will also earn more money.