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Giants uniting, small farmers disintegrating

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The banana world has become infinitely a much more difficult place for small farmers to survive since the ‘Banana Wars’ began in the mid-nineties. The changes, which have been occurring both in the global trading system and in the market place, both in Europe and the Caribbean, have been rapid and profound. Worse, they have all made it harder and harder for small farmers and workers involved in the industry to make ends meet.{{more}}

When the banana dispute between the US multinationals, backed by Latin American governments and the European Union erupted in trade warfare, the global industry was dominated by the ‘Big Three’ American corporations – Chiquita, Dole and Del Monte, who between them then had over three-quarters of the world market. But the guns in the banana war backfired on many of their owners and not only did our farmers and workers lose, the same giants were badly affected.

It led to what is now known as ‘the race to the bottom’ and even the mighty Chiquita was forced to seek bankruptcy protection. Side by side with this development came the steep surge in the primacy of the big retailers, the huge supermarket chains all over Europe. This was especially so in our major market, the United Kingdom, where the market was gobbled up by the likes of ASDA, a subsidiary of the American global colossus, Walmart, as well as Tesco and Sainsburys. These rapidly came to ‘call the shots’ in the banana trade and even the multinational traders, the ‘Big Three’ and Fyffes, had to play second fiddle.

These banana behemoths used their position of dominance to manipulate the market, engaging in damaging rivalry for market share, using bananas as the pawn. In the process, as pointed out by a just-released report from the Fairtrade Foundation in the UK, the price of bananas in British supermarkets has been almost halved over the last 10 years, while production and living costs for farmers have practically doubled. A loose banana is today sold for 11 pence in British supermarkets, as compared with 19 pence a decade ago. These bananas are produced in farms in the Caribbean, Latin America and Africa and transported all the way to the UK. But a loose apple, produced right there in Britain, is sold for 20 pence.

Even the big banana traders are under pressure, forced to reduce prices in order to get supermarket orders. They understand this clearly and are responding. The merger between Chiquita and Fyffes is one such response; the big boys are uniting in order to survive, a real SIGN OF THE TIMES.

However, the small farmers do not seem to be getting the message. Instead of consolidating, instead of drawing the correct conclusions, we are fighting all kinds of internal and personal battles, allowing politicians to use us and hence being unable to meet the challenges, whether they confront us on the UK, Trinidad or Barbados market. If we continue down this road, we are doomed. That is our SIGN OF THE TIMES!

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