When you buy a Chiquita banana, it may come from the same farm as a fairtrade banana. The only difference is the sticker on the banana, and that the farmer was paid more by the big company than by fair trade.
So if you think they taste different or look different, you’re mistaken.
How can this be?
Well, fairtrade guarantees a price the farmers receive for their bananas all year, even if the market price can vary quite a bit. The fairtrade price is supposed to cover the cost of production in the country where the bananas are grown. That means the farmers can relax and be sure that they will make enough money all year.
Sometimes the market price is just half of the fairtrade price. But often it’s even double the fairtrade price. Right now, the price of bananas on the world market is around 12 dollars per box. In the fairtrade-cooperative Asoguabo in Ecuador, the farmers only get 5,50 dollars per box.
This tempts some farmers to sell outside the fairtrade system to make more money. They sell to Chiquita, Dole, Bonita, Reybanpac, anyone who’ll pay more. At the same time as they’re benefiting from the cooperative’s program for social improvement, payed for with the fairtrade premium of a dollar per box which the cooperative uses for the good of the farmers.
If a farmer doesn’t deliver any fruit to the cooperative two weeks in a row, he or she is suspended for a year. That’s happened to twelve of Asoguabo’s close to 500 farmers the past year.
The ones who sell outside the system are bigger farmers who produce up to hundreds of boxes of bananas per week. The really small and poor producers in the co-op, the ones who don’t produce more than five, ten or fifteen boxes per week, are loyal. Maybe because they live in the mountains. Many don’t even have cars. They would have a hard time to get in touch with other buyers even if they wanted to. They depend on the help of the cooperative, paid for with the fairtrade premiums. Monthly food deliveries, yearly school supplies for the kids, social security and cheap health care. The bigger farmers would manage without fair trade, but for the really small ones farming is a lifestyle and fair trade a way to survive.