Cropping organic bananas

Did you know that the consumption of organic bananas is escalating?

This fact is not restricted to bananas, it also covers other organic foods. Higher concern for the environment and healthy eating habits appear to be the main reasons why we, organic bananas, are becoming more popular in your shopping basket year after year.

Our rate of growth implies larger areas dedicated to organic farming. This is outlined in the 20th edition of “The World of Organic Agriculture, published by the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) and IFOAM – Organics International, and presented at the Biofach Organic Trade Fair in Nuremberg, Germany.

Growth organic agriculture

Source: FiBL-IFOAM-SOEL surveys 2011-2019

One fact leaps out from the numbers above: as a consumer, you may be switching to organic bananas or thinking about it. So, would you like to find out what distinguishes an organic banana?.

You probably link the label to the restriction of chemically synthesized pesticides. This is certainly one rule, but not the only one. If you’d like to know more, let’s discover below what other requirements must be fulfilled by an organic farmer.

Firstly, let us consider the FAO definition of Organic Agriculture:

“Organic agriculture is a holistic production management system which promotes and enhances agro-ecosystem health, including biodiversity, biological cycles, and soil biological activity. It emphasizes the use of management practices in preference to the use of off-farm inputs, taking into account that regional conditions require locally adapted systems. This is accomplished by using, where possible, agronomic, biological, and mechanical methods, as opposed to using synthetic materials, to fulfil any specific function within the system.” (FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission, 1999).

Therefore, organic agriculture is not just the sum of various crop-growing techniques. It is a type of farming that requires a local approach. The best methods for the local environment in Ecuador may not be suited for the Dominican Republic.

The different regulations on organic production stem from the definition above. But look at the European law, which applies in my number one destination. The legal framework governing organic production determines the requirements that the banana production must fulfill to be labelled as organic.

European regulation

To turn out organic bananas, production shall be based on a main principle, according to European law:

  • The cropping system should rely on ecological techniques. This means that our farms use natural resources from the surrounding area in a sustainable way, by methods like:
    • Mechanical production methods. For instance, using machetes to remove weeds.
    • Use of living organisms to increase the soil fertility. By not using agro-chemicals and fostering, for example, the use of organic compost like “bioles” (we will address this in a forthcoming post).
    • Exclude the use of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms).
    • Based on risk assessment, and using precautionary and preventive measures, when appropriate.

Besides the main principle, growers of organic bananas must follow a set of specific principles, which European law describes as follows:

  • An organic crop should not only maintain, but also enhance soil life and natural fertility. The methods applied must ensure the nourishing of plants primarily through the soil ecosystem, and prevent and combat soil compaction and erosion.
  • Farms should minimize the use of non-renewable resources (in particular, responsible use of water).
  • Plant production should make use recycled wastes and by-products of plant origin.
  • Production decisions are taken after assessing the local or regional environmental impacts.
  • Maintenance of plant health must be ensured by preventive measures like:
    • Adequate selection of species and varieties resistant to pests and diseases;
    • Appropriate crop rotations, mechanical and physical methods;
    • Protection of natural enemies of pests.

Lastly, two important restrictions are mentioned in the European regulation:

  • Prohibition of using GMOs;
  • Prohibition of using ionizing radiation

Moreover, for a banana to be labelled “organic”, an independent, accredited third party must verify that the farm complies with the rules. So, if you wish to become officially an organic farmer of bananas, you must be certificated through a control body (we will discuss this topic in forthcoming posts).

We can now see that organic agriculture addresses matters that extend far beyond refraining from chemically synthesized inputs. It involves a holistic vision of farming, which means that growers need to manage their individual cropping system as small ecosystems.  And indeed, the system entails social benefits for the regions where organic bananas are cultivated.

So … are you inspired to join us and enjoy organic bananas?