Course:CONS200/2019/Socio-ecological impacts of banana farming in Peru

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Background of banana

Cavendish banana peels

Bananas, one of the healthiest fruits on Earth, are rich in antioxidants, fiber, and various nutrients [1]. Out of more than 1000 cultivars of bananas produce and consumed over the world, Cavendish Banana, for its strong resilience to global travel and environmental stress, is the most commercialized type and constitutes 47% of production globally [2].

Current trends

In 2017, global banana production reached a record of 114 million tonnes, with India and China being the two major producers[3]. Due to the growing demand of rising populations in less-industrialized areas, the banana industry has been undergoing a rapid expansion over recent 20 years, from taking up 3.6 million hectares of land in 1993 to 5.6 million hectares in 2017 [2]. On average, a hectare of land yields 40 to 50 tonnes Cavendish bananas, while countries with well-established industries including India and the Philippines produce 60 tonnes per hectare [2]. Fertilizer expenses, pesticide use, and labor costs are key components that make up banana production costs [2]. In general, in recent years the market price of bananas is stabilized at 0.9-1 USD per kilogram in Europe and North America [4]. The low price of bananas enhances their role as a contributor to food security, as they are widely affordable while rich in nutrients, and are easy to be added to one’s diet [1][2]. Research also showed that bananas have served as a cash crop to income generation in banana producing countries, where three-quarters of smallholder farmers’ total monthly household income come from banana farming [2].

Banana farming in Peru

Peruvian banana production in the past

Peru, a global organic banana exports leader, contributes to about 3% of world organic banana production [5][6]. Peru started transforming from conventional to organic in the late 20th century and currently reached 9600 hectares of land occupied by organic banana production [6][7]. Because of low levels of precipitation in producing areas including northern Piura, Lambayeque, and Tumbes, investment in drainage is significantly reduced [6][8]. Peru’s desirable weather and tropical climate also allow for optimal banana growing conditions, while associations have been voluntarily created among small household farmers, increasing their bargaining power [6]. These factors make Peru advantaged in organic banana production, leading to a considerable increase in yield by 94% from 2010 to 2015 [9]. In 2015, Peruvian banana exports totaled USD 145 million, increased by 19% than the previous year, accounting for up to 190000 tonnes [6][10].

Predominant markets

The predominant markets of Peruvian bananas are the Netherlands, the United States, Germany, and other importers include Belgium, Japan, Finland, South Korea, the UK, Canada, and Chile [5][6].  

Organic banana trees are not producing bananas fit for export due to extreme weather changes in Piura, Peru.

Recent decline in crop yield and its causes

However, for the past few years (2016-2018), banana producing areas in Peru has undergone extreme weather changes which caused serious damage to crop yield and its exports market [11]. The 2016 drought in Piura was marked by no rainfall for eight consecutive months, leading to the formation of tiny and deformed bananas, which required lots of water to grow [11]. When the Chilalo birds finally started nesting near the banana plantations, indicating the upcoming presence of rains, rains did come in early 2017, but they were torrential downpours that agricultural regions of Peru were not accustomed to [11]. Apart from bananas, limes, grape, and mangoes also saw a drastic decline in production as a result of two years of unstable change in weather [11]. Overall, a 16% fall in banana exports occurred and as Axel Herrera, representing the Banana Public Investment Project pointed out, that for organic banana production and exports to recover, it would take at least 10 months [11].

Social Impacts of Banana farming in Peru

Positive Social Impacts

Banana farming provides employment opportunities and contributes to the national economy. Despite the rather small agricultural area (1.7% of the territory), agriculture sector makes up 7.6% of Peru’s national GDP [12], and export of agricultural products is now the third largest economic sector in Peru [13]. Agriculture also generates a great amount of job positions. In fact, 25.8% of Peru’s labor force is devoted to agriculture [12]. Peruvian agriculture has grown significantly over the past two decades, especially on the west coast where most of the banana farms are located. The growth in agriculture leads to a steady decline in poverty rates [14]. Peru is one of the world’s leading export of organic bananas. In 2014, the production occupied around 5500 ha. The banana farmland is concentrated in the northern region of Piura, Tumbes, and Lambayeque, where the semi-arid climate significantly reducing investment in drainage [15]. In 2015, exports reached US$143 million and close to 190000 tonnes [15].

Negative Social Impacts

farmer with cigarette on mouth carrying bananas on his back

Banana farming also generates social problems because safety measures and labor laws are often not enforced in the workplace. Banana farming in Peru is associated with a range of occupational health and safety risks for the workers [6]. Banana farming practices can be physically challenging. On the arid northern coast where banana farming concentrates, the temperature is high, and the sunlight can be intense [16]. The working shifts can be long, and the workers may not get enough break time and rotation to stay hydrated and rest in shaded areas [6]. The human body naturally maintains a temperature of 37 Celsius, and perspiration helps release excess heat to cool down the body. However, after long hours in hot condition, the workers can experience heat disorders and potential injuries when their bodies heat up faster than cooling [17]. In more serious cases, the workers might experience symptoms including a low level of consciousness, nausea, vomiting, seizures, shock and cardiac arrest due to a heat stroke [17]. In addition, harvesting bananas involve lots of lifting [18]. The manual handling on the field can lead to injuries to a different part of the body [19]. The workers may accidentally get cut, bruise and fracture or musculoskeletal disorders due to the repetitive movements [19]. When working on a banana farm, workers are also exposed to risks including viruses, bacteria, parasites, fungi, insects and poisonous animals [20]. As a result, the workers can get diseases such as leptospirosis which can lead to kidney damage, liver failure, and respiratory distress without proper treatment [18]. Bananas are usually grown in monoculture with a large number of pesticides because of their low genetic diversity and vulnerability to fungal disease [21]. The use of agrochemical can have significant risk to the health and safety of workers, producers and their communities [22]. However, since banana production in Peru is mainly organic, occupational risks related to pesticide is not as serious as in other countries. Banana farming in Peru is also associated with insufficient wages and social security for the workers [6]. Organic bananas’ production cost is usually higher than regular bananas; however, in order to be competitive at the market, the price has to be low. For each dollar the consumer pay, eleven cents or less goes to the plantation, which is then divided up. As a result, the farmers often receive low wages that are not enough to pay for necessities [23]. Workers may also be forced to overwork [6]. Although they are only paid for eight hours, they may have to stay ten to twelve hours because the workers’ rights and labored is often not respected by the transnational fruit corporation [23].

Ecological Impacts of Banana farming in Peru

Positive Ecological impacts

Banana farming leaves a significant amount of usable agricultural residue for energy production [24]. Its conversion to ethanol which is a type of the first-generation biofuel helps to achieve more energy efficiency and improve rural livelihoods [24], as a replacement for conventional fossil fuels. Specifically, the residues of stems and rachis from banana farming are highly effective in producing high glucose yields [24]. Therefore, the fuel source is potentially a way to reduce global carbon emissions and the use of fossil fuels.

Negative Ecological impacts

Land-use change with soil erosion
change of land use

Deforestation rates in Peru are on average 123,000 hectares per year between 2001 and 2016, which is equivalent to 200,000 football fields [25]. 80% of this deforestation occurs illegally [26]. Loss of cover of native forests and vegetation has resulted in soil erosion. Both small- and medium-scaled banana agriculture were held accountable for 80% of the deforestation in the last 17 years, as well as accelerating deforestation rates [25][27]. Additionally, deforestation causes loss of topsoil, which leads to the transportation of soil sediments to the rivers, affecting local ecosystems and species habitats, or to the oceans and being deposited in coral reefs.

Soil degradation with nutrient depletion

The implementation of monoculture as growing same banana species over again deprives the soil of essential nutrients that are put back into the soil through crop rotation. This leads to soil degradation. Nutrient depletion due to banana monoculture is common in Peru where abundant soil nutrients are lost during and after land conversion and subsequent crop cultivation, and their chances or likelihoods of being regained are negligibly small [28]. Monoculture hence poses a severe problem to the decline in overall soil quality and fertility.

Loss of biodiversity

Banana monoculture will lead to a substantial decline in the disease resistance and resilience to environmental change due to loss of genetic diversity [29], which thus increases genetic susceptibility to various diseases.

Water depletion

Water depletion is of huge concern to the agricultural well-being and livelihood status in Peru due to freshwater consumption from surface and groundwater sources for farmland irrigation and banana processing [30]. It is anticipated that the continuous over-abstraction of freshwater from surface and groundwater sources for agricultural utilization would render the freshwater resources invisible in Peru in a finite amount of time. Hence, high levels of water footprint and costs are of immediate concerns to banana farming in Peru.

Fire burns in a deforested section in the Amazon lowlands on November 16th, 2013, in Madre de Dios region, Peru.
Contribution to climate change

Indirect emission of nitrous oxides (N2O) from the soil due to conversion to agricultural lands accounts for the highest share of the climate change costs and is dependent on the agricultural production area and associated yield [30]. Carbon dioxide (CO2) which is another greenhouse gas in climate change, is emitted by deforestation due to clearcutting or land clearance for banana plantations.

Banana consumption and food miles

Bananas produced in Peru are exported to other countries, which enhances individual carbon footprints per Peruvian farmer [31]. Bananas are perishables which mean the fastest modes of transportation must be taken into account first. As a result, air transportation or shipping by large vessels are usually adopted for banana export from Peru, which leads to an escalating amount of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere and contributes to the enhanced greenhouse effect. Hence, the ecological costs of transportation due to food miles also contribute to the overall externalities of climate change.

Potential solutions to help diminish negative impacts

A set of potential solutions imposed by authorities can help diminish the impacts. Implementation of health and safety laws at the workplace, encouraging establishments of trade unions for the welfare of farmers and workers, prevention of complete reliance on importing countries to help maintain job security for many and putting a value to the cost of farming on the environment are few of possible potential solutions.

Implementation of health and safety laws

The banana industry in Peru is known for its extremely dangerous and hazardous working conditions [23]. The banana plantations are associated with extreme physically demanding and interacting with harmful chemicals during work process [23]. There are made to carry heavy loads of bananas or are made to stand for several hours straight [32]. Since bananas require large amounts of pesticides and chemicals for its growth, workers are forced to expose themselves to several toxic chemicals which can cause cancer and other deadly diseases and sometimes the workers have to dip their unprotected hands in a bath of toxic chemicals in order to wash the bananas and keep them pesticide free [32]. It is, therefore, critical and crucial for the authorities to enforce safety laws especially for workers in contact with hazardous chemicals to be provided with appropriate care and equipment.

The workers are prone to accidents and injuries and their working contract provides them with no compensation or medical treatments on site which places a huge risk on the lives of the workers. Therefore, it is also essential for the authorities to enforce health and safety laws at the worksite to prevent any losses of labour workforce and lawsuits [33].

Establishment of trade unions

farmer sitting on house front

The banana trade has made the lives of the workers bitter due to the low wages they are paid [34]. Since supermarkets are in search of the cheapest bananas available, this comes at a great cost to the workers since the plantations get paid only 11 cents or less [35]. This contributes towards extremely low wages to the workers sometimes even not sufficient to access or afford the basic necessities required for survival [34]. Despite their low wages, the workers are forced to work beyond their hour limits. Even though they are paid for only 8 hours of work, the workers are forced to work for up to 10-12 hours of work [36].

By encouraging strong labour unions to be formed, the trade unions can work for the welfare of the workers and protect their needs. The collective bargaining and threatening the authorities to conduct a labour strike will pressurize the authorities to consider the needs of its labour and drive up the wage rates along with other required necessities [33]. Therefore, the industry should allow trade union memberships for its workers to help their own working conditions [33].

Prevention of reliance on importing countries

Even though the workers are provided with housing on the plantation site, there is very little job security provided and often they are only given a working contract of 3-4 months after which the labour have to migrate to find new jobs elsewhere [37].  This is mainly due to the complete reliance on importing countries and the uncertainty in these markets [38]. If the importing countries stop buying bananas produced by Peru possibly due to trade wars or international conflicts, Peru will face an acute economic shock affecting the economy as a whole and specifically the plantation workers [37][38].

By creating local driven markets, the reliance can be reduced to an extent and secure the job security of the workers. The uncertainty and rate of returns on these investments can also be improved and establish a stable banana producing industry.

Placing a value to the cost of farming on the environment

The banana plantations are ecologically demanding and therefore there are many problems associated with banana production [36]. Large areas of lands are cleared out for banana production and this depletes the soil really quick since there is no natural leaf litter provided by banana trees to the soil, it also depletes the nutrients of the soil without providing back any. This results in soil erosion and the run-off from the plantations causes the nearby water bodies to get polluted and damage from sedimentation [36].

There are 450 different agrochemicals used during the production process to produce “perfect” bananas [37]. These chemicals can cause life-threatening diseases and also make the pesticides more immune towards the stronger chemicals [39]. Lastly, banana production is a monoculture process which makes it easier for the flock to be wiped out in case of a pest or fungi outbreak [39]. In order to prevent this more chemicals are added to the soil, an estimated amount of “30 kilograms of pesticides are used per hectare” [36].

By placing a value on all the disturbed ecosystems and reducing the consumption and usage of pesticides, possible measures can be taken to reduce its impact on the environment [39].

Conclusion

The current production system of bananas in Peru involves a large-scale monoculture, with intensive farming. This current production system in Peru is prone to damage and can reduce growth, caused due to pest invasion and change in precipitation patterns. The current production system also has several positive and negative impacts on the environment and society which can be improved through the possible potential solutions. However, these only suggest several ways to assist banana producers to improve their techniques and efficiency which can help reduce the negative impacts related to the current production system. Thus, while this research does address the methods to enhance the current system, it is important to find and shift to a new and more sustainable banana production system which looks critically at the entire banana farming system.

While establishing or researching about a more sustainable production system, it is crucial to use the stated impacts as indicators and find a new production system with little or no impacts. One such example is intercropping production system, which is more profitable, socially and economically, and is also less intensive on the environment with regard to the chemical substances and machinery[40].

Although the above potential solutions will help diminish negative impacts, they require major political involvement which makes them highly time-consuming solutions. Therefore, it is highly recommended that a combination of solutions which involves new production systems along with the stated potential solutions to be combined for a much more effective and rapid results with little or no impacts on the environment.

References

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  3. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2018). "Banana market review: preliminary results for 2018" (PDF). 
  4. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2017). "Banana market review" (PDF). 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Eurofresh Distribution (2016). "Peru: a world leader in organic banana exports". 
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Seekiefer (Pinus halepensis) 9months-fromtop.jpg
This conservation resource was created by Will. It is shared under a CC-BY 4.0 International License.