Those involved in African
banana production say several reforms are necessary to improve this sector.
Banana farmers across tropical regions of Africa have suffered numerous
setbacks in recent years, including disease outbreaks that have destroyed their
crops. As a result of underdevelopment, they can’t sell their bananas on
lucrative world markets. Advisors to Africa’s banana sector are now focusing on
ways to improve the lives of struggling farmers, and several solutions have
immense potential of African banana production remains largely unrealized. But
with hard work and good initiative, we can turn things around,” says Dr. Fen
Beed, of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Kampala,
the food provided to 100 million people in sub-Saharan Africa by especially
green boiling bananas, Beed points out that it’s possible to make many other
products from banana plants.
In Africa, some
of these include beer, wine, juice, mats, handbags and soap. Today, Uganda
alone offers 200 processed banana products, but because of an underdeveloped
export industry, they’re seldom found beyond local markets.
But, says Beed, before Africa
can begin to explore further opportunities for banana processing, it has to confront
the challenge posed by diseases such as bacterial wilt that have destroyed
banana crops across the continent in recent years.
Information to control
diseases must reach farmers
maintains that one of the main reasons for the spread of plant diseases in
Africa is the fact that most farmers don’t have access to information that
could prevent and control outbreaks. He insists that more must be done by
international organizations and African governments to help farmers to protect
their banana crops.
for control include destroying material that’s showing symptoms…. Basically
once the symptoms are recognized in the field, the farmer would be required to
destroy that material to prevent further spread,” Beed says. “Also, (farmers
must) not use hoes or machetes which are infected, because that would obviously
spread the disease from one mat of banana to another.”
acknowledges that “to get (relevant preventive information) to the farmers (so
far) has actually proven to be quite a difficult process.”
But he adds
that his organization and others are beginning to work more closely with local
banana producing communities to exchange information that’ll protect African
need to be on our guard to make sure that any disease that does come in (to
Africa) is identified first and then controlled as quickly as possible, because
too often, we’re trying to control disease epidemics when they’re really out of
control and destroying people’s livelihoods. And we need to develop a system
where we’re able to detect and diagnose what the disease is and prevent it…prior
to catastrophic disasters,” Beed emphasizes.
He also says
African banana growers “urgently” need expert business advice on how to better
organize their production.
operating in an unsustainable manner; they’re not getting the best use out of
their land,” Beed states.
to Thomas Dubois, a scientist with the Consultative Group on International
Agriculture, if Africa’s banana industry is to significantly improve
production, it must “catch up” with the rest of the world and begin to use new
tissue culture is really the necessary biotechnical tool that farmers need to
have to access planting material that is uniform, that is clean and that is
fast growing and high yielding,” he tells VOA.
culture, Dubois explains, is a technique by means of which scientists produce
plants under sterile conditions in laboratories. In so doing, he says, the
plants that can then be given to farmers are “totally free” of pests and
adds that “a lot of small cottage companies (are) opening up all over Africa
that produce these tissue culture plants and sell them” but that “we still have
problems moving this planting material across borders and certifying the
quality of this planting material and standardizing it across the different
laboratories that make those tissue culture plants.”
says African banana producing countries need to “move as fast as possible” to
formulate legislation that would allow the movement of clean planting material
across borders. This, he comments, would contribute a lot towards the expansion
of local and regional banana markets.
points out that scientists in Africa have been working to develop disease
resistant banana plants by means of genetically modified organisms. He readily
acknowledges that this will no doubt “send shivers down the spines” of certain
groups opposed to GM foods. But Dubois says as long as the “political and the
legal framework is correct” so countries in Africa approve the testing and use
of GM products, the new technology should be available to farmers on the
have proposed that increased African banana exports to Europe as a primary way
to improve continental production of the fruit. But Dubois says only a few
countries in Africa can at the moment feasibly export bananas to European
markets. He says nations with better infrastructure and access to “well-functioning”
ports – “such as Ivory Coast, Ghana and Cameroon” – are in a better position to
sell their bananas in Europe.
generally Dubois thinks it would be better for Africa’s banana industry to concentrate
on earning money from niche markets in Europe.
could go through the process that would allow them to label their bananas ‘organic’
or ‘fair trade’,” not attempt to compete with the mass production of banana
enterprises in Latin America, for example.
leading international trade lawyer based in Brussels, Bernard O’Connor, agrees.
He advises Africa to concentrate on its home markets for the time being.
“It is much better now to deliver to the urban centers (in Africa) that
already exist, and who need a better supply, a more regular supply and more
constant quality. And if you work on these things for your local markets, then
in time you will get the sort of experience and the sort of capacities that you
need to be able to support an export market,” he explains.
says some African banana producers have already taken the necessary steps to
allow increased banana exports, “like the company in Ghana that actually allows
small-scale farmers to co-own a large plantation. They certify the produce and
ship it to Europe. There’s another person – in the Democratic Republic of
Congo, of all places; actually in Kivu, where they’re fighting – who manages to
export dried organic banana to high profile supermarkets in France and
says most African banana farmers are currently operating in a “fairly isolated
manner” and he advises them to “become better organized” by forming “grower
groups.” This could reduce the farmers’ costs, as they could share transport to
markets, for example.
Dubois says grower groups would enable farmers to sell
directly to wholesalers and cut out middlemen, who are costing them millions of
dollars annually in lost income.
groups…allow a lot of farmers to shrink the whole value chain of banana,” he
emphasizes. “They have a say now; they don’t have to start selling their plants
to the guy who comes with a truck, bunch by bunch. No, they can sell en masse
to a large consumer – for example a supermarket. So there’s a bigger say (they
have) in the price (they can get).”
says once farmers have formed groups, they can begin grading their produce,
branding their group and having “dedicated contracts with consumers – such as
schools or hospitals or supermarkets in the urban regions.” All of this, he
maintains, would mean higher income for banana growers.
A study by the development NGO TechnoServe, in Kenya, shows that when
small-scale banana farmers organize themselves into grower groups, adopt
product standards, obtain capital for purchasing farm inputs and market their
bananas directly to wholesalers, their incomes have doubled and, in some cases,