Leaving baby bananas for bigger ones

Juan Marquez brings down the bananas on a mule's back from his farm in the foothills of the Andes.

Juan Marquez brings down the bananas on a mule's back from his farm in the foothills of the Andes.

Juan Marquez has grown baby bananas for seven years, but he only has a couple of weeks of experience in growing regular bananas.

-I’m learning, he says.

-I started with baby banana, but there doesn’t seem to be demand in Europe, so now we’re getting rid of the baby bananas and planting bananas in stead. It looks like the banana farming is going to go a lot better. The banana grows well and generates more income, says Marquez.

Ernesto Dávila has stopped growing baby bananas.

Ernesto Dávila has stopped growing baby bananas.

Asoguabo encourages the members who grow orito (baby banana) to plant regular bananas in stead, because the demand for baby bananas is low. So the farmers in the mountain villages Muyuyacu and La Florida are changing crops, and it seems to be going well. A couple of months ago you could only see the small baby banana bunches on harvest day, but now bunches of bigger bananas are hanging in the packing plants waiting to be sent to the port.

-I quit the baby banana completely, and now I only grow bananas, says Ernesto Dávila.

He started growing baby bananas when Asoguabo recruited new farmers to start exporting the fruit eight years ago. The demand wasn’t as high as expected. The Finnish chain of Siwa-markets, for example, stopped buying baby bananas. So last year Dávila began growing bananas.

But back in the day, the exporting of the orito changed the lives of the farmers in the mountains.

-We had the luck to export directly through Asoguabo at a better price. We can take it easy and my kids can go to school. I don’t have to work elsewhere to make enough money, and I feel like the master of my own farm, says Juan Marquez.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Leaving baby bananas for bigger ones

  1. Thanks again for another fascinating insight into the life of the producer…As I was reading Juan’s story, I was reflecting on his thinking about the concepts and ideals of fair trade and the fair trade movement.

    I raise this question because some researchers suggest that the farmer who sells the ‘fair trade’ product has no real interest or understanding of fair trade beyond its provision of a market mechanism to get them a better price for their current product, be it their coffee, cocoa or bananas baby or big?

    As someone who works with the farmers on a daily basis what is your sense of this?

  2. Annika

    It´s true that some of the farmers don´t know what fair trade stands for, and some aren´t even aware that they belong to something called fair trade. For them the cooperative Asoguabo is where all the benefits come from. Others, again, are very aware. Usually these are the farmers that have been part of the cooperative since the beginning. For them fair trade was the thing that changed their life. For many of the newer members it´s the cooperative that changed their life. Fair trade is just a certificate among other certificates. Many of them identify themselves more with organic farming. That´s what they´re proud of, their clean bananas.
    Some farmers I´ve talked to feel that all the farmers should get better insights in fair trade and how it works. But as I see it, it doesn´t matter what the farmers think of fair trade as long as it helps them, right? Fairtrade is supposed to give small disadvantaged farmers access to markets and empower them, and help them develop and grow through organizing and working together. That it does. As to a “market mechanism that gives them a better price for their product” – fair trade isn´t, because the price the fairtrade farmers receive for bananas the last few years has been lower than the average market price, and is now lower than the minimum price the Ecuadorian government has set.

  3. Thanks for this wonderfully detailed and insightful response. Your reflections really add another dimension to the realities of the ‘partnership’ between producers and fair trade!

    Will Tweet this and I look forward to reading more!

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