The farms your bananas come from are not all the same. In fact, they can look like two different worlds. In Spanish, the two ways to farm are called agroforestal and monocultivo. In Asoguabo, there are both kinds of farms. The differences are big.
Monocropping means that the farmer only grows bananas. There are no other crops in the field. These farms can be found on the coastal plains, on the most flat and fertile lands. They can be either conventional, meaning that they use agrochemicals, or organic, which means chemicals are forbidden.
Agroforestal means that the banana plants share the soil with other crops such as cacao, baby banana and citrus fruits, and with trees. These farms are often in the mountains or the foothills of the Andes.
Monocropping is more productive and efficient than agroforestal. When a hectare on the plains produces 50 boxes per week, a forest farm produces only 15. Why?
In the mountains it takes longer for a banana plant to produce fruits, and the bunches of fruits are smaller. In addition to this, there’s fewer plants per hectare.
When a plant on the plains produces fruits after half a year, it takes more than a year for a plant in the mountains to grow enough to produce fruits. On the plains, one bunch fills more than a box of bananas (which weighs 18,14 kilos). In the mountains, you need two bunches to fill a box. In the mountains, the bananas are planted with a radius of four metres, when the radius is only two metres on the plain. Why?
The soil on the plains is more fertile. There are no trees to shadow the banana plants, so they grow faster. No other plants are stealing nutrition from the banana plants.
The advantage of forest farming is that you get income from both cacao and bananas. Most of the farmers who are agroforestal today used to grow only cacao. The harvest season of cacao is only a few months per year. The rest of the time, the farmers had to look for work elsewhere. But the banana can be harvested all year, and the farmers can stay in their villages.
For this entry, I’ve interviewed Wilson Sanchez, agroforestal farmer in Asoguabo’s member associaton Muyuyacu and guide in the tourism project the Banana Tour.