The Caribbean Banana Trade: From Colonialism to Globalization


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From Colonialism to Globalization

The Banana - University of Nebraska Press : Nebraska Press

They have warned that if we try to fight back, there will be blood. We have to take that seriously — they mean it,' she says. Just as there is a world of difference between the production history of the typical Caribbean and Latin American banana, there is also a yawning gulf when it comes to taste. Women basically run banana farming on St Vincent. But men can't stand up to pressure and now that bananas are not so profitable, we women run the show.

They just get us pregnant and run away. This has fallen to one in 10 as their market has been whittled away by cheaper Latin American imports. Nioka showed me what a really delicious banana should look like. Caribbean bananas taste better than dollar bananas because they are less chemical, less plumped up with fertilisers.

She peels a perfect specimen.

Its skin is deep yellow, almost speckled with little brown sugar spots. Thin and moist, it pulls away easily. The flesh is obligingly fondant within, soft enough to mash for a baby's puree with the lightest pressure. Bite into it, the texture is positively silky and the flavour distinctly fruity, a far cry from the floury, thick-skinned specimens we get in the UK. This, she says, is because all that British supermarket chains really care about — with the exception of Waitrose — is a steady supply and a low price.

The Caribbean Banana Trade: From Colonialism to Globalisation

The bananas we are sold have that farinaceous texture and neutral flavour because they have not been transported on the bunch, ripened instead with ethylene gas so their starch has not broken down into sugar. Back in the Sixties, the Windward Isles exported their bananas, just as they grow, on the mother stem. It enabled them to ripen more naturally. Then the supermarkets started demanding them in clusters and bagged to cut down on labour costs in Britain. But it is the growers who foot the bill for that packaging.

Banana farmers on St Vincent told me, for instance, that they pay seven cents for each bag they are required to use by Asda. Little costs like these erode their precarious incomes. All Windward Island banana growers — like their counterparts around the globe — work to a common specification for bananas, drawn up to reflect our supermarkets' idea of the perfect banana; a visually flawless, under-ripe fruit of uniform length and breadth.

Flick through the 'Banana Defects Manual' and you see that most of the requirements are purely to do with appearance. Neither taste nor nutrient levels are mentioned. More than that and the whole lot will be rejected. The supermarkets demand that all bananas must be dipped in fungicide. That does not appear to concern UK supermarket buyers because bananas are their single most profitable line or because they perceive the residues to be insignificant.

You might not think that could be the case, since supermarkets price cut ruthlessly on bananas, but here again it is the growers who stump up for our bargains. For Windward growers, with their higher productions costs, the UK supermarkets' continual downward pressure on price is hard to bear, but the big chains hold all the cards. The threat of being dumped by the supermarkets is omnipresent, but as one farmer put it; 'They have us at ransom.

But although the Windwards rely on supermarkets, they don't trust them. And they are counting on the traditional allegiance of British consumers to Caribbean bananas to prevent the supermarkets ditching them for the more lucrative option. Bananas is about us and our life. Without bananas, we'd be better off dead,' says Edmond Henderson, wiping the sweat from his brow. His small, vertiginous banana farm, fringed with avocado and palm trees, is at Marigot on Dominica. Today is his busiest time — the fortnightly harvesting — when he is helped out by his wife, Joyciema, sister-in-law, Petra and another local man, drafted in to help for the day.

The Caribbean Banana Trade

That is the great thing about bananas, the steady fortnightly income. We use the money to send our kids to school, to buy uniforms and books In the last 10 years, as the European banana market has been altered to give less protection to Caribbean growers, he has seen 5, people emigrate from Marigot alone. Most head for Guadeloupe where wages are higher because it is a department of France. Others try to get jobs in tourism on islands like Antigua.


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They take whatever they can get. Beggars can't be choosers. Meanwhile on St Vincent, some growers are diversifying into cannabis production. I have a love for bananas and I don't want to go but, in truth, I don't think I would have survived until now if it wasn't for Fair Trade. God bless Fair Trade,' says Edmond. His daughters, Lauraine and Lesha, share his passion. As children they both begged to be given their own tiny plots to cultivate and would like to continue in the banana industry.

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Lauren wants to go to university to study soil science so she can become an even better grower, but where is the money to come from? Banks are not keen to lend to Caribbean banana growers any more. Recognising the threat that hangs over them, the banks view loans to them as too risky. Further around the island at Salybia, the Bruney family don't even have the luxury of dreaming about loans.

Their land is held in common, so they have nothing to use as loan security, even supposing they could manage to pay one back. Suckey Bruney and his wife, Estiem, use bananas to support their household — an extended family of 12 living in three rooms. What would they do if the banana boat stopped picking up? Suckey just raises his eyes upwards. He doesn't even want to think about it. Looking on the bright side, the Caribs have been diversifying into crafts. But baskets and ornamental calabashes can't put food in the mouths of 12 people.

And who would buy them anyway? Although extraordinarily green and beautiful, Dominica lacks an international airport and those holiday-brochure golden, sandy beaches.


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  4. The majority of banana growers in the Windward Islands are not native people like the Bruneys, but the descendants of slaves, brutally uprooted from Africa by their colonial masters then put to work growing a series of profitable crops. They did so in the belief that they could rely on the market in the UK.

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    Now, undercut on price by floods of inferior-tasting, unethically produced supplies and squeezed by supermarkets, they are waiting to see if the British government will stand up for Caribbean bananas. Bananas were a means of providing a source of island revenue and eased colonial expenditures on the islands. Today, in the post-independence Caribbean, bananas remain one of the most important commodities, particularly for the smallest states, feeding thousands of families in the most economically depressed areas.

    Before its expiration in , the Lome trade convention signed in in the Togolese capital of Lome provided for a traditional arrangement allowing preferential access to European markets for former colonies, thereby safeguarding the livelihoods of thousands of people and sustaining the economy of the Small Island Developing States of the Caribbean. While some regard the preferential access as an arrangement that cements dependency, many in the region see it as a sort of reparations for many centuries of exploitation of Caribbean people. The Lome provision has been the lifeblood of Caribbean bananas, which are otherwise unable to compete with the products from Latin American plantations.

    The fruit also constitutes a significant share of earnings for much of rural Jamaica.

    In an attempt to develop a contingency plan to deal with these impending changes, officials from the Caribbean, Latin America and Europe met in Brussels in April to examine critical issues affecting the industry. At the top of the agenda of the Second International Banana Conference was the long-running dispute over the marketing of bananas in Europe and increasing competition among banana multinationals and giant supermarket chains.

    This increased competition has resulted in driving down the prices being paid to small farmers, causing many to abandon banana farming. Organizers say they want to promote mechanisms for a socially, economically and environmentally sustainable banana trade worldwide.

    The Banana: Empires, Trade Wars, and Globalization

    World banana production amounts to some 65 million tons per year, concentrated in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America because of favorable growing conditions. Because bananas are so tender, larger yield is typically a result of increasing chemical use. It is estimated that an average of different pesticides are currently authorized in banana cultivation. Five multinationals — Chiquita, Dole, Del Monte, Noboa, and Fyffes — control 80 percent of the international banana trade. The top three corporations exert a virtual monopoly on Latin American plantations.

    go here Banana agribusinesses expatriate most of the profits from producer countries. Only 12 percent of revenues remain in the countries. Plantation workers only take home percent, while small farmers get only percent. While Latin American bananas are grown on large plantations controlled by these large corporations, Caribbean bananas are grown on small family farms and cooperatives, with union representation.

    Banana producers are constantly pressured to produce at lower prices and push wages down in order to drop prices, but the industry is a lucrative business for the multinationals. The WTO will decide on preferential access at a meeting this December. Hardly anyone expects it will move in a favorable direction for Caribbean growers.

    The Caribbean Banana Trade: From Colonialism to Globalization The Caribbean Banana Trade: From Colonialism to Globalization
    The Caribbean Banana Trade: From Colonialism to Globalization The Caribbean Banana Trade: From Colonialism to Globalization
    The Caribbean Banana Trade: From Colonialism to Globalization The Caribbean Banana Trade: From Colonialism to Globalization
    The Caribbean Banana Trade: From Colonialism to Globalization The Caribbean Banana Trade: From Colonialism to Globalization
    The Caribbean Banana Trade: From Colonialism to Globalization The Caribbean Banana Trade: From Colonialism to Globalization

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