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Banana crunch: Production costs, disease, and other factors behind a sudden reduction in availability but help is on the way

Posted: Monday, February 20, 2023. 6:41 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: Everybody loves their bananas – and why not? But these days there are fewer bananas around to love because prices have gone up – from as much as ten for a dollar to as low as four for a dollar at some markets in Belize City (We are told that elsewhere they go for six to eight for a dollar).

Bananas are, on average, Belize’s third largest export after sugar and citrus in that order, and one of the oldest industries in Belize. But what you may not know is that after leading banana exporter Fyffes finishes export of its pick of the litter, Belizeans are sold locally what they may call “the rejects” – not necessarily unhealthy or poor, but for one reason or another not acceptable for the very discriminating international market. That is as many as ten thousand tons of bananas per year rejected and left to be sold for whatever price.

Back in 2017, then-Minister of Agriculture Godwin Hulse described the process this way: “Bananas, my dear, is a luxury; it’s something that happens. The banana industry in this country is not geared toward the local market at all. It’s geared toward the export market, with Fyffes being the main manager of the export. And so, to my understanding from ever, bananas are on the market – what is not sold abroad, etcetera, different sizes, etcetera – it’s not a specific domestic production.”

But that production has decreased due to increases in input – of fertilizer, especially, as well as additional labour costs due to increases in the minimum wage.

Servulo Baeza, CEO of the Ministry of Agriculture, described the industry as being in a “very precarious position.” The Ministry has submitted a proposal to the Government of Morocco for assistance with fertilizer and is awaiting a response, which he hopes will be favourable.

Minister Jose Abelardo Mai recently told reporters that “It’s not that there is a shortage, it is the cost of acquiring the banana, of going to look for it and taking it to the ripening house and distributing it. That cost has gone up. What we eat locally are bananas that do not make it to the export market. Now, those who want to buy bananas to sell on the local market go and they have to physically select that banana, pack it up, and then bring it to the ripening houses.”

The bananas themselves are free, essentially, but it is now costing more money to move them for further distribution. While the minister assured bananas would remain available, their price will increase: “It’s not an easy fix. Some had said to me, banana is dead and I am still optimistic that we can do something to bring it back.”

Meanwhile, banana exports are projected to be down by between 600 thousand to a million boxes fewer than projected. The Minister attributed this not only to the fertilizer issue, but also climate change: “The change in rainfall pattern, the change in wind currents have caused the banana plantations to come under heavy attack of the Sigatoka. Sigatoka is a disease that affects the leaves and de-leafing has to occur to avoid further spread of the disease. When you remove the leaves, you stay with three functional leaves. Any banana plant that has three functional leaves, the fruit on that plant will not be able to export, because it ripens on the voyage and so we have a high number of bananas that cannot be exported that has to be sold locally.”


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