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Wednesday
Feb052014

Fairtrade Fortnight Campaign Goes Bananas to Fight Poverty

We love bananas.  In the UK alone we eat over 5 billion a year, and 1 in 3 of these are certified Fairtrade.  But unfortunately there is still a huge problem. The bargain bananas offered by supermarket giants are driving the farmers that supply them into a cycle of poverty.  From February 24th to March 9th, 2014, Fairtrade Fortnight aims to expose the hidden, devastating costs of slashing prices. 

Image Courtesy of Ian Ransley 

The problem comes from the fact that, to win customers in a competitive market, Supermarkets are driving down the shelf price of particular products.  Because they buy in such huge numbers, they are able to put pressure on suppliers and farmers to sell produce for less.  As a result, we currently pay only 11p per loose banana, which, to put things into perspective, is almost half the price we pay for a single UK-grown apple.

In order to make bananas cheaper than a fruit grown here, money must be trimmed somewhere along the line.  Wages are usually the first to be slashed as distribution and fertilising costs are not negotiable.  Working conditions often become dangerous too, as money is saved by skipping the purchase of protective clothing for the potentially life-threatening pesticides used.  Training is also forsaken, so farmers are using chemicals without education about their hazards.

Things are particularly bad for the small-scale farmers across Latin America and the Caribbean.  A 200% increase in shipping costs from banana producing countries, an increase in the cost of farm fuels, and a general increase in the cost of living, means that small-hold farmers are struggling to keep up with the larger plantations.  There are also reports that attempts to create trade unions for these isolated smaller producers have been discouraged with intimidation.

Image courtesy of Fairtrade Foundation

But the Fairtrade Foundation has a plan – a plan in the form of a man called Foncho.  ‘Stick with Foncho’ is the name of the campaign, and centers around 43 year old Albeiro Alfonso ‘Foncho’ Cantillo, a banana farmer from Cienaga, Columbia.  Two years ago, Foncho joined a co-operative that guaranteed a fair minimum price for his bananas.  Fairtrade wants to tell the story of what joining that co-op meant for the him. 

Before joining the co-operative, Foncho was struggling to feed his family or provide for their basic healthcare and education.  Now he is even able to pay for his daughter to go to college and study accountancy.  This is the power of Fairtrade.  However, only 1 in 3 bananas bought in the UK actually have the sticker, which means that a huge gap still remains.  Fortunately, Fairtrade Fortnight aims to offer more ways to help beyond just choosing to buy Fairtrade.

The idea of the campaign is to raise as much awareness as possible, demanding a minimum fair price for bananas and, if supermarkets cannot comply, to ask the government to step in and enforce it.

The campaign offers clear ideas about how to do this including signing a petition, raising awareness through social media, and staging events at school, work or in the high street to attract the attention of local MPs and media.  Apart from being really helpful (and looking good on your CV), campaigning sounds like a lot of fun too.  You can order event packs with inflatable banana suits, instructions on how to set up a ‘Foncho Fruit Stall’ and prizes for creative event ideas.

Hopefully, by sharing the story of a real farmer, Fairtrade Fortnight can bring to light the real problem behind bargain banana prices.

Find out more about Frontier's Environmental Conservation or Community Development projects, many of which take place in banana producing countries, and help to make industries more sustainable.

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