Go Bananas for Fair Trade

According to the USDA, the average American eats a whopping 26 pounds of bananas per year.  I believe this as my daughter Grace seems to eat this many bananas in a month! Easily portable and so delicious, bananas rule the fruit market in the U.S.

What is less obvious when buying that beautiful yellow fruit is the turbulent history the world banana industry has endured, mostly at the expense of small farmers and pickers (including children).  According to Transfair USA, over 80% of the world banana market is dominated by just five companies (Del Monte, Chiquita, Dole, Fyffes and Noboa/ Bonita).  These companies control every part of the banana supply chain and have gone to some extreme lengths to maintain their profit margins. These lengths have included slashing picker wages to the point that many families bring their children to help pick, pulling them out of school; negotiating with terroists; and heavy pesticide use.

Fair trade certified bananas have only been available in the U.S. for a few years but they are worth looking for.  Bananas that are certified fair trade means the farmers and pickers receive a living wage, enabling them to send their children to school instead of to the fields.  Although not necessarily organic (some are also certified organic), fair trade certification disallows the use of the most toxic pesticides and chemicals.  Fair trade bananas also must be grown using sustainable practices including mulching, non-chemical weed control and sustainable water use, so they’re better for the environment than conventional bananas.

Fair trade bananas have been available since the 90s in Europe and enjoy an incredible market share there, as high as 50% in Switzerland. Because they are newer to the U.S. they are hard to find, as I have discovered in my recent quest to find them in my area.  I have checked all my usual grocery store haunts (Whole Foods, New Season’s, Fred Meyer’s, Haggen’s, and Trader Joe’s). All these stores sell delicious organic bananas which Grace devours but none carry the fair-trade certified seal, at least not that I have found.

I have found an organic brand of bananas at New Season’s and Trader Joe’s which carries a seal for something called the GROW foundation (Giving Resources and Opportunities to Workers). I looked into it and while this group is not fair trade certified, according to their website their mission is to “ensure that field workers receive a living wage for a day’s work and are treated according to internationally accepted standards.” They also require their workers to use environmentally sustainable practices. This all sounds like fair trade but I always feel better when a product is certified by an outside, independent organization, such as Transfair. Still until I find actual fair trade certified bananas in my area I’ll buy the GROW bananas. They taste fabulous and the price hasn’t been too bad either.

If you’d like to encourage your local grocery store to carry fair trade bananas, Co-op America has a letter on their site you can sign which they are sending to major supermarket chains. You can also mention the idea to your supermarket’s produce manager next time you’re in the store. They make their buying decisions based on what they hear customers asking for.

Have you found fair trade bananas in your supermarket? Leave a comment and let me know where.

For more information check out this New York Times article.


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