Story of the week: Banana production

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Grown / sold and cooked – Plantain in Guasa

In December, it was made public that banana crop growth in the Dominican Republic might be in danger from the fungus Black Sigatoka. Angel Estevez, the Agriculture minister, assured that the fungus does not pose a threat to the banana crop production in the Dominican Republic at this time, as the rain will wash the fungus away. Banana production is an important part of the Dominican Republics’ agriculture and export.

The Republic is the main exporter of organic bananas in the world, of which 25% is said to be fair trade. However, Ecologist Magazine questioned the fairness of these bananas a few years ago. Banana production is dominated by Haitian migrant workers, and they are often overworked and underpaid. They usually earn less than Dominican workers, but even if they get paid equally Dominican workers get fixed contracts and promotions. Haitian workers have no legal rights, as they are often working illegally. The circumstances in which banana workers work makes the fairness and sustainability of these crops questionable.

There are two sides to this coin; on the one hand, the workers in the banana industry are disadvantaged, and on the other hand, the people in the rest of the world who think they are buying fair trade products are not actually getting what they pay for. They choose to buy these product thinking that those who work in banana production will receive fair pay and work in a good work environment – which they often don’t.

However, there is good news as well. According to Fairtrade International’s report on Fairer Fruit: Fairtrade’s Impact in the Banana Industry (2016), Fairtrade initiatives have contributed to education, housing and well-being. Whether that applies to Haitian migrant workers who work illegally is unclear, although the report does mention that Fairtrade “has been proactive on regularising migrant workers by building the issue into the Standards”.

In short, banana production is a major part of Dominican agriculture and the economy. The Republic is also the major exporter of organic and Fairtrade bananas. Whether this produce is as ethical as it is suggested is up for debate.

In Ramon Santana, the sugar industry is a large employer, and has its own story. More on that in the next blog and thank you for reading!

Nandi
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