Publication Date : 29/01/2019
In the fresh produce section of the local supermarket, the most likely item is the banana. Bananas are produced throughout the year and travel across the sea from the tropics. They can be found in almost any food store around the world, but does the price of the banana in the retailers really reflect the cost of their production? Should consumers pay more for bananas to provide better returns to producers? Equal Exchange, an importer and trader of bananas and other tropical products in the United States, says that banana prices are too low and must be increased to compensate adequately to the producers.
“Retailers often put the lowest possible price on the banana, even with a margin loss, to attract customers to the stores and remain competitive,” said Angelica Hicks of Equal Exchange. “As the US food sector consolidates, multinational retailers put pressure on prices, forcing independent stores to match the insatiably low prices of bananas. of supply and, ultimately, results in the exploitation of workers and the environment.
“Equal Exchange focuses on Fair Trade goods, which on a larger scale, aims to change what they consider unfair business practices through partnerships with cooperatives of small farmers. “For bananas, our model involves buying Fair Trade, organic fruit from farmers’ cooperatives at sustainable prices and stable volumes,” Hicks explained. “The result is a banana produced in a responsible, traceable and high quality way, at a slightly higher price”. Hugo Rocafuerte Vera inspecting bananas (Photo: Carson Ingley and Brendan Pate)
How the model works
As an importer, Equal Exchange buys bananas from independent cooperatives in Latin America and sells them to the US market. The company says one of the keys is to connect the farmer with the consumer, and the results suggest that this is gaining popularity among consumers thanks to the work of the cooperatives. “Over the course of 12 years, Equal Exchange has raised awareness of the consumer and the commercialization of bananas produced by small farmers, thus connecting long-term producers in Ecuador and Peru with the purchasing power of the US market, “explained Hicks. “We now buy more bananas from small producers than ever: only in 2018, Equal Exchange paid more than $ 4 million directly to the cooperatives of small producers for their bananas.”
“Our cooperative partners, AsoGuabo in Ecuador, CEPIBO and APOQ in Peru, invest in community-led development projects, stimulate rural economies, participate in continuing education and carry out sustainable agricultural research,” he continued. “Equal Exchange does not intervene in these effective projects, but it helps to generate them through consistent purchases of bananas.” Hugo and Guillermina Velez in the packing machine (Photo: Carson Ingley and Brendan Pate) The company also shared one of the projects that the cooperative Ecuadorian AsoGuabo has been able to perform.
“Equal Exchange’s oldest banana association is with the Small Producers Association of Guabo (AsoGuabo), a cooperative of 130 small farmers in the South Coast of Ecuador. Recently, AsoGuabo started a biofactory, a plant to produce organic inputs for improving the health of the soil and the productivity of its producer members, what is particularly remarkable about these projects is that they are democratically selected by the same members of small farmers’ cooperatives. “According to the company, the volume sold in the United States of 2016 to 2018 grew by 52 percent. “This growth is due to the dedication and hard work of distributors and store partners who have spent years storing, selling, promoting and discussing Equal Exchange bananas, even when there are cheaper options. those who care more and more about how food is produced and sold, “Hicks explained.
Much of the Equal Exchange market has focused on Upper Midwest and the Northeast. In 2018, the company focused more on the West Coast, where they partnered with a distributor, and for the first time in 12 years, Equal Exchange bananas are available in the area. “At the end of 2018, we started a weekly program of Bananas on the West Coast, “shared Hicks. “It’s an exciting time for Equal Exchange and its producing partners, and an opportunity to start a conversation about the banana trade with the communities of California.” AsoGuabo staff, producers and delegates from the Coop store in Ecuador (Photo: Carson Ingley and Brendan Pate) Hicks added that the conversation will continue this year when the company launches a major campaign in March, which aims to raise awareness and educate more consumers about its approach.
“2019 will be a year of growth both in volume and sales, so it is important to prioritize in awareness campaigns and facilitate shared learning throughout the supply chain, Our next main campaign will launch in March 2019, the Equal Exchange Banana Month, and will include interactive opportunities to explore our program and its results. “In the end, the goal is the same: to show retailers and consumers that paying a little more for bananas can offer a better situation to people who they produce them. “This is an important moment in which the grocery industry must resist pricing and marketing practices that perpetuate exploitative business relationships,” Hicks concluded. “Equal Exchange remains committed to creating a space for Fair Trade small farmer’s bananas to foster balanced and cooperative business relationships, and to offer meaningful information, and an honest choice, to consumers.”