Dorothy Agard is a banana farmer from St Lucia, one of the Windward Islands located in the Eastern Caribbean.
Dorothy Agard has been a banana farmer for 10 years and produces 75 cartons (1.4 tonnes) of bananas a week with the help of five full-time workers. Dorothy is a member of her local Fairtrade group, part of the Windward Islands Farmers Association (WINFA) which represents banana farmers from St Lucia, St Vincent & the Grenadines, Dominica and Grenada. WINFA was Fairtrade certified in 2000 and has a membership of 3,500 banana farmers.
More than 85% of bananas grown in the Windward Islands are Fairtrade certified and it is access to the UK Fairtrade market that has enabled its export banana industry to survive in the increasingly hostile global commercial environment.
Fairtrade Standards ensure farmers receive a price per box of bananas that covers their costs of production. In addition, WINFA receives the Fairtrade Premium of $1.00 per box to fund community improvements and business development, including diversification into other agricultural products and alternative income generation schemes.
Why Fairtrade Is Needed
Liberalisation of the global banana trade has led to increased global production and put the Windward Island’s banana export industry under increasing competition from lower-cost bananas grown on vast plantations in Latin American and western Africa. These bananas are on the frontline of a 10-year supermarket price war in the UK which has resulted in loose bananas today selling for almost 40% less in 2014 than 10 years ago, while production costs have risen.
As well as devaluing the fruit in the eyes of shoppers, this continuous downward pressure on prices squeezes the incomes and living standards of banana farmers and workers who are caught in the crossfire. This is undermining the industry’s ability to invest in a more sustainable and fair banana trade for the future.
Low retail prices mean farmers like Dorothy struggle to cover the costs of running small family farms that use more socially and environmentally friendly methods with fewer agrichemicals than many plantations, but have higher overall costs because of the hilly terrain, lower yields and higher costs of labour, transport and quality control. For many plantation workers, low retail prices mean long hours, low wages, trade union repression, poor health and safety standards and exposure to the intensive use of agrichemicals which are harmful to both workers and the environment.
How Farmers have invested the Fairtrade Premium
- Farm improvements to meet GLOBALGAP food safety standards (required by UK retailers): upgrading packing stations, installing pit toilets and lunch rooms for workers.
- Agro-tourism: an inter-island income diversification project to refurbish a processing plant to process members’ passion fruit, guava, other fruit into jams, juices and chutneys for sale locally.
- Health: medical equipment for rural clinics, construction of a medical store, wheelchairs for the elderly, annual health checks for workers on members’ farms.
- Education: pre-school construction and equipment, computers for schools, scholarships for secondary school students, new school bus and bus shelter.
- Community development: refurbishment of community centres, installing street lighting.
- Infrastructure: improvement of farm access roads and bridges.
- Social security: supplementary contributions to farmers’ pension funds.
- Reduced use of agrichemicals has led to an increase in wildlife (worms, birds, snakes, and crayfish) and allowed animals to be grazed nearby and food crops to be grown.
- Regular campaigns to remove waste have resulted in a cleaner, healthier local environment – for example, clearing the discarded insecticide-impregnated plastic bags used to protect bananas on the trees.
- Buffer zones between banana plots and rivers/roads have reduced soil erosion, protected fruit from traffic pollution and provided space to plant other fruit trees for domestic consumption.
The islands were battered by torrential rains and severe winds during Christmas 2013, devastating rural communities and banana production. The farmer’s association will pick up the pieces and deploy the small disaster fund put aside from Fairtrade Premiums to get on with replanting and rehabilitation. With much hard work and determination, farmers will ensure Fairtrade bananas from the Windwards are available again as soon as possible
Decline of the Windward Islands Banana Industry
Bananas have been crucial to the economic and social development of the Windward Islands for more than 50 years – at one time employing 50% of the workforce and contributing 50% of export earnings. As recently as the 1990s the Windward Islands supplied 60% of the UK’s bananas but liberalisation of the global banana trade has almost wiped out the industry.
The European Union (EU) Banana Regime traditionally gave preferential treatment to imports from the Windward Islands and other former European colonies in recognition of the importance of the trade to their economic development. But in 1996 Latin American banana exporting countries and the US lodged a series of legal challenges at the World Trade Organization complaining that the EU regime discriminated against Latin American producers. An agreement signed in December 2009 resolved the long-running dispute and cemented the process of opening up the EU market to increased imports from Latin America by reducing the duty on them.
Erosion of the trade preferences given to the Islands’ banana exports has led to a dramatic decline in the banana trade. Coupled with the effects of hurricanes and disease, production has fallen from 274,000 tonnes in 1992 to around 25,000 tonnes in 2013 and the Windwards’ share of the UK banana market has plummeted to 9%. The number of farmers has fallen from 27,000 to 3,500, resulting in reduced revenues and an increase in unemployment and related social problems among the islands.
Natural Disasters Also Threaten the Industry
Uncertainties about the impact of EU reforms have been compounded by natural disasters, the worst drought in living memory and the spread of Black Sigatoka fungal disease, which continues to ravage banana crops.
Following the devastation caused by Hurricane Dean in 2007, banana production throughout St Vincent and St Lucia was totally destroyed by Hurricane Tomas in 2010. Just as farmers were recovering and Windwards bananas were reappearing on our supermarket shelves, the islands were battered by torrential rains and severe winds during Christmas 2013, devastating rural communities and banana production. WINFA estimates 36% of banana production on St. Lucia was affected, while pack houses and other infrastructure and supplies necessary for Fairtrade production and export were also damaged. Once again WINFA will pick up the pieces and deploy the small disaster fund put aside from Fairtrade Premiums to get on with replanting and rehabilitation. With much hard work and determination, farmers will ensure Fairtrade bananas from the Windwards are available again as soon as possible from Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Ocado.