Have you started to notice your bananas are getting greener?
Have you started to notice your bananas are getting greener? This is because they are being taken out of the ripening shed too early to keep the supermarket shelves stocked. This is an early warning about the sustainability of the banana supply chain. So what is going on?
The UK is Europe’s biggest consumer of bananas, with every woman, man and child consuming almost 20kg of the fruit every year. Almost every banana is a Cavendish, with the majority coming from Central and South America. However, this reliance on a single variety, produced at low cost in just a few countries has started to cause problems.
There are hundreds of different types of banana, yet we consume just one: the Cavendish. Scientists are beginning to worry that a fungus, known as Panama disease, could wipe them out. This not only makes the supply chain extremely vulnerable, but also increases the need for fungicides which are bad for the environment.
This problem is worsened by the extreme monoculture practiced by banana plantations in Central and South America, which makes plants incredibly susceptible to disease. Furthermore, these vast plantations can degrade soil quality and deprive wildlife of their habitats. A lose, lose, lose for the environment. So, why has this happened? One word: price.
Bananas are ridiculously cheap in the UK - costing less than apples that are grown locally. But we are starting to see these costs, in the disease threatening Cavendish bananas; in the degradation of the environment; and the poor conditions endured by plantation workers. As with all costs, they are eventually felt. However, as usual, it tends to be lowest in the supply chain that suffer the most.
In Malawi, one of 11 African countries affected by the disease, families that have relied on bananas for decades are now having their livelihoods wiped out. Unsurprisingly poor farmers have been slow to follow instructions to burn their plants and buy new ones. This has helped the disease spread.
The current situation shows we’ve learned very little since the 1950s when ‘Big Mike’ plants were completely wiped out by a similar disease. A supply chain based on cost, not sustainability keeps the future of bananas extremely vulnerable. Even if efforts to create a disease resistant banana succeed in time, history will again repeat itself unless we change the way we produce food.
That’s why at Storimarket we’re committed to bringing you the story behind your food from farm to table, so you can be confident that it is produced ethically and sustainably. Our producers employ field workers who regularly visit the farms to monitor crop health and offer advice. Furthermore, most Storimarket farms are small and mixed - not the extreme monoculture of large, commercial farms - which is good for the environment and makes them more resilient.