Six siblings turn a desert into record harvests

Abel, Jorge, Saturnino, Felix, Maria and Nancy Zaruma are experimenting with a new way of farming to be able to harvest when demand is high.

Abel, Jorge, Saturnino, Felix, Maria and Nancy Zaruma are experimenting with a new way of farming to be able to harvest when demand is high.

-A year ago, this was a desert, says Jorge Zaruma and looks out over his farm.

Now it looks different from any other farm in the area. The plants stand close together in straight, double lines with irrigation channels between every other line and drainage between every other. We are standing under the cableway that crosses the field at a 90 degree angle to the orderly lines of plants.

-Last year’s floods killed every plant. Then, Asoguabo suggested that we start with planned harvesting. We had doubts, but they believed in us and supported us financially as well as technically.

”We” are Jorge and his five siblings, who own 21 hectares of farm next to each other.

The experiment is supposed to make the farm more productive and efficient. The idea is to time the planting of the bananas so they will be ready for harvesting when the demand and the prices peak, in order to get the best price and be able to sell all the fruit to fairtrade buyers.

The plants are planted closer to each other, so that one hectare has room for twice as many plants as a traditional farm. That means twice the harvest.

The plants are planted closer to each other, so that one hectare has room for twice as many plants as a traditional farm. That means twice the harvest.

On a traditional banana farm the bananas are planted at different times so that the farm yields harvest 52 weeks a year. On the Zarumas’ farm, all the plants were planted at about the same time,  40 weeks ago, and are being harvested during three months. Then they start growing again, and the next harvest is expected in october-november.

-The hard thing is that we don’t have any income during part of the year, just expenses. The good thing is that the yield is so much better with the same amount of work. People can’t believe how many boxes of bananas we produce! Other farmers from Asoguabo as well as from the outside come to see what we do.

According to quality manager Marco Oviedo, the method can increase the yield to 4000 boxes of bananas per hectare per year when the average in Asoguabo is 1100.

-It’s a record. It seems like we will be able to get better harvests than anyone else in the area, says Oviedo.

The reason is that the plants are planted closer to each other than on a traditional farm. 2400 plants per hectare compared to 1200-1300.

-This is an innovative project that unites the family. We exchange experiences and help each other with money as well as work, says Nancy Zaruma.

 

Planned harvesting

  • As early as in the end of the 1800’s, British colonial officers encouraged banana farmers in Jamaica to time the planting of their bananas so that they could be harvested when demand peaked. (Source: ”Banana Wars” by Steve Striffler and Mark Moberg)
  • Asoguabo is experimenting with planned harvesting on two community farms and on the farms of the Zarumas.
  • The goal is to lower costs of production, increase yields and optimize the timing so the bananas are ready for harvesting right when the prices and the demand peak.
  • The programme is partly financed by the fairtrade premium.
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