Organic certified fresh bananas which are grown for export are produced in:
- the Dominican Republic (for European Union, North American markets and Japan)
- Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, Mexico (for North America only)
- Israel (mainly for internal consumption)
- Martinique (France only)
- Philippines (Japan only)
The Dominican Republic exports almost all of its organic banana production to Europe, and especially Germany. The country supplies 55% of the world's organic banana production.
Production constraints - linked to endemic disease problems in many traditional banana exporting zones - mean that supply remains very limited. The costs of conversion of monoculture banana, where a non-chemical system is technically possible, are high. Small producers can rarely afford the initial conversion costs without external support. In particular, demand for organic Fairtrade certified fruit tends to outstrip supply.
Some Fairtrade certified producers are also certified organic. There are several small farmers' associations in the Dominican Republic, Peru and Ecuador, and medium- or large-scale plantations in the Dominican Republic, Colombia and Ecuador. Filipino organic bananas are traded with a Japanese consumer cooperative on alternative trading terms, but without a fair-trade label, and, in some cases, without organic certification.
How Are They Grown Organically?
Soil fertility is maintained - and enhanced - by the use of organic fertilisers which vary from producer to producer. In the Dominican Republic they use coffee husks, mixed with animal dung (poultry/cattle). Elsewhere, producers use guano, fish bones and seaweed. In some places, crop residues are also returned to the soil. Inter-cropping with cocoa, spices and other fruit trees is common in non-export bananas, but almost non-existent in the export sector.
Weed control is manual and/or maintained with machetes. Sometimes a green legume cover-crop is grown between bananas. Protective sheets can be placed around the banana bunches to prevent damage while they are maturing, and can help reduce the number of bananas unsuitable for export by 40 to 50 percent.
Pest problems are tackled using a variety of non-chemical methods. But most organic production comes from areas not infected by the devastating black sigatoka (leaf-streak) fungal disease which costs so much to control in a conventional system. It is possible to control the less serious yellow sigatoka disease using organic methods, but the presence of the black sigatoka spores in and around banana and plantain plantation monocultures, especially in Central America, makes chemical treatment essential.
Ethylene gas is permitted for use in the ripening of bananas within organic standards. Click here for more information about ethylene which naturally occurs in small amounts in fruits and vegetables and is not known to cause any harm to humans.
How organic bananas are grown in the Dominican Republic (Riverford Organic)
Photo: Labelled bananas, SITAG, Peru 2012