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Bananas, Are They the Quintessential Health Food? A Global/Local Perspective. By Susan L. Andreatta. “Healthy living” and “Healthy eating ”.

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bananas are they the quintessential health food a global local perspective

Bananas, Are They the Quintessential Health Food? A Global/Local Perspective

By Susan L. Andreatta

healthy living and healthy eating
“Healthy living” and “Healthy eating”
  • Increasing public awareness in the 1980s and 1990s resulted in a reduction in the amount of meat, poultry, and fish consumed and a growing interest in vegetarian diets that cuts across classes and ethnic groups
  • This dietary shift parallels societies’ increasing awareness of and concern for the environment
  • “Greening” effect:
  • Demands for “free range,” “low fat,” “no fat,” “environmentally safe”
bananas health food
Bananas –Health food?
  • For many people bananas appear to be the quintessential health food
  • Consumers throughout the world enjoy bananas
  • Bananas are one of the most important food commodities, with world trade in 1993 valued at $75 billion
  • Andreatta draws on research in the Windward Island banana growers in St. Vincent, to illustrate how pressure from transnational corporations contributes to social injustice and environmental degradation
the growth of an empire
The Growth of an Empire
  • Between 1980 and 1990 the international banana trade increased 28%
  • The greatest increase in imports has gone to Europe and North America
  • The increase in consumption in the North has provided regular demand for banana producing countries to supply
The perfect blemish-free yellow banana is sought after so an increase in pesticides and fertilizers are used, having negative consequences for the environment and producers
  • “Technology Packages” are designed to and distributed by the ministries of agriculture in banana producing countries to meet standards imposed by the transnational corporations and to meet market demands in the North
The increased consumption, however, comes with an increase in restrictions, production guidelines, and an increase in competition between producers and transnational corporations
  • Crop cultivation that contributes to vegetarian diets is not always as benign or environmentally friendly as is often assumed
  • Avoiding the use of animals does not necessarily make agriculture, aquaculture, or vegetarian diets “green” or “safe,” “healthy” or “environmentally friendly”
  • Evidence indicates that international banana industries are having an adverse effect on economies, livelihoods and the physical environment on both a local and global scale
We need to look beyond the supermarket shelves and include those who cultivate in our definitions of healthy foods
political ecology
Political Ecology
  • Combines concerns of ecology & political economy to understand the dialectic between society, resources, and classes
  • It incorporates concepts of
    • Time
    • Space
    • Scale
  • And connects fields to supermarkets, growers to consumers, agronomists to policy makers
transnational banana trade the european union s control
Transnational Banana Trade-The European Union’s Control
  • More than 90% of world banana exports are to the developed market economies of the North
  • The European Union is the single largest importer of bananas in the world; it protected its trade with the Lomé Convention producers (Africa, Caribbean, Pacific) & Windward Islands
Chiquita, Del Monte, and Dole, the three largest USA-based banana MNCs, own 20% of the plantations in Central America and control 75% of the trade in that region

Between them these companies control 70% of the world banana trade

Windward Island Bananas

Made up of several Banana Growers’ Associations (BGAs)

27,000 registered banana growers on the Windward Islands are organized into four BGAs

The international banana trade regime has had significant influence on Windward Island banana production

In 1954 St. Vincent and Grenadines BGA entered into a standing contract with Geest Industries, UK whereby all bananas of exportable quality had to be sold to Geest

st vincent s banana growers
St. Vincent’s economic base is agriculture, which accounts for 20% of the GDP and 80% of the merchandise exported

Banana plants now occupy 41% of the 29,000 acres of arable land on St. Vincent

Export banana production more than doubled between 1983 and 1992

However, the 1990s began a dramatic decline in the banana industry, which struggled with a relative devaluation of the European currency and a drop in the green wholesale price for Vincentian bananas

Struggling Banana Growers in St. Vincent

Growers and the BGAs were uncertain of the future of the banana trade

St. Vincent’s Banana Growers
transnational control
Transnational Control
  • Not surprisingly with the increased demand more people got into banana cultivation and marginal lands were being transformed into plantations
  • Even with the best practices these marginal lands were unable to produce bananas which conformed to transnational standards
  • This drove down the price of bananas, banana growers were being paid EC $.21 per pound while it was costing them EC $.35 per pound to produce
  • The BGA’s and banana growers’ debt have continued to grow resulting in reorganization and debt restructuring
  • The price paid has since gone up yet the increases have not kept up with the increased price of agricultural inputs demanded by production
contract problems
Contract problems
  • Contractual agreements between Geest and the Windward Island BGA have been strained for nearly four decades
  • Farmers produce the bananas, they are delivered to Geest, Geest transports the bananas on their ships to the UK, deducts all agreed costs and what is left is what the farmers and associates get
  • Under this arrangement Geest has no real incentive to fight for cost reduction, since Geest costs are deducted
banana production and its social environmental impacts
Banana Production and its Social & Environmental Impacts
  • A number of agricultural chemicals have been developed to maximize yields, produce crops efficiently, and meet supermarkets’ and consumers’ expectations for blemish-free produce
  • Ecological impacts from certain agrochemicals have resulted in varying degrees of pest resistance and resurgence, and in persistence of pesticide residues in the natural environment, as well as chronic health problems and poisonings associated with exposure
Banana workers are exposed to dangerous chemicals. Frequently workers suffer from dermatitis, eye problems, respiratory disorders, fertility problems and many other unreported problems
  • Bananas are susceptible to pests and disease and are more likely to be affected if grown as a monocrop
  • Aerial spraying is used widely and inefficient at targeting the plantations directly. Aerial drift affects the workers, and residents of nearby villages and pollutes water supplies.
  • The use of marginal lands has led to soil loss, and decreased productivity
  • According to a number of growers and extension officers, many species have experienced lowered populations that coincides with increased inputs in production
environmental impact of st vincent s bananas
Environmental Impact ofSt. Vincent’s Bananas
  • In comparison to other Global South countries, St. Vincent is more restrictive in controlling the importation if agrochemicals
  • However, St. Vincent at the present has no governmental standards and no means of detecting pesticide levels in food or water on the island
  • 20% of aerial sprays on St. Vincent never reach their target, but are blown, settling down on houses, in streams, in water catchments, on other agricultural produce, and on humans and animals
  • Agriculturalists and others have commented upon a severe reduction in wildlife species in aerial spray areas
the future of windward island banana producers
The Future of Windward Island Banana Producers
  • It is clear from the local level that both the environment and the growers suffer from the unequal balance of power, inequities of production and distribution, and an array of injustices
  • The majority of banana growers are economically worse off today than in the past as a result of the base price reduction, rising costs of production, deteriorating field conditions, banana expansion into marginal low-yielding lands, and the increased time required to produce, harvest, and package bananas to meet Geest’s criteria and EU standards for quality fruit
so are bananas the quintessential health food
So are Bananas the Quintessential Health Food?
  • The negative consequences of banana production for human health and health of the physical environment illustrates the needs for consumers to think beyond the perfect blemish free exterior when purchasing bananas.
  • Change in agrarian practices can only come about if there are changes in consumers’ preferences, and in the economic relationships between growers and the market
  • As banana eaters, we are all involved; it is not just growers who must change their production strategies
  • “The perfect, blemish free banana is the quintessential health food only if we, the consumers, are the only people whose health is considered important.”