“Farm to forK” goes BananaS

Last week we had the opportunity to attend a webinar organized by the Ecuadorian Banana Cluster. This webinar took place on #World Banana Day and addressed a theme that will define the future of the banana sector:

Farm to Fork”  strategy developed by the European Union.

With this strategy the EU is boosting the development of an even more sustainable agriculture. Among its goals, one of the most ambitious is to reduce pesticides’ use by 50% in 2030.

Latin American bananas’ market share is over 75% in Europe. No less than 3 out of 4 bananas consumed in this continent come from Latin America. At the same time, access to healthy diets is a cornerstone of the European Green Deal. These diets are obviously based on a high consumption of fruits, among which bananas stand out for their properties. These two conditions explain that the banana market in Europe cannot be sustained without imports, especially from Latin America.

In addition, among the EU’s priorities for the period 2019-2024 is the aforementioned European Green Deal. This agreement aims to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent in the world. To achieve this, the EU has defined an action plan, which includes the development of more sustainable food systems. A plan that includes the “Farm to Fork” strategy: And in defining this strategy the EU cannot ignore the requirements that will apply to imports.

For this reason, it is important for Ecuador to participate in defining the framework of the strategy, so that in particular small and medium-sized producers can overcome the geographical imbalances affecting the agricultural sector. Progressively higher quality standards will have an impact on production costs, which are not always shared along the supply chain. For example, certification costs are now borne by the producer. Tackling this new scenario will require special measures such as:

1. The improvement of the farmer’s position in value chains.

2. The support of targeted investments to foster restructuring and innovation.

What was discussed in the webinar offered by the Ecuadorian banana cluster?

The panelists came from very disparate fields (science, economy, politics, law …). This allowed us to discover the perspective of the different actors involved in the definition of this new strategy. Some interesting considerations from each field were:

  • From the scientific point of view:

Scientifics regret we do not have today different effective alternatives for the treatment of foliar diseases such as Black Sigatoka. Therefore, they stress that research into innovative biological treatments is essential. At the same time, they also consider it essential to promote banana biodiversity, an attractive solution that would allow us to consume a great variety of bananas and minimize their risk of extinction due to a disease. Nevertheless, to develop the technology needed to achieve any scientific advances, the adoption of honest prices is essential. Public/ private partnerships (PPPs) in science  are also observed as necessary, since they would allow developing new ways of dealing with Sigatoka. PPPs are not only key instruments to coordinate both market and research needs. But PPPs can also work as instruments to leverage private investment in science, technology and innovation (STI). In a nutshell: more collaboration and less competition in this field.

  • The economic perspective:

Some voices consider that, rather than the current strategy of banana development based on supply and demand (known as the price war), a price regulation scheme should be adopted. On the contrary, others believe that the current supply and demand-based system has worked, taking into account the exponential growth of American bananas into the European market. It seems that greater transparency and commitment by all stakeholders in the supply chain are unavoidable conditions to favor fair prices.

  • The opinion of the policy makers:

Lawmakers state that sustainability is not an option, but a necessity. Their role as legislators is to gradually change trade conditions. So, they encourage companies to make decisions taking into account the interests of all stakeholders. Policy makers believe that sustainability is already profitable for companies. It requires only a change of mentality. When all stakeholders realize the benefits of sustainable strategies, regulations for its adoption will no longer be necessary. The law holds that each company can already begin this transition towards a more sustainable strategy.

  • From a political point of view:

Health is presented as the premise of all EU policies. Its aim is to guarantee consumers that all products are safe and harmless. So, the EU points out that more and more must be done to protect the health of consumers and the planet. Politicians are also aware that the Ecuadorian export sector benefits from a very strong demand from the European consumer. This speaks for a very robust element for the future of bananas, which will make it possible to address the challenge of sustainability. Given the strategy adopted by the EU, it is key for producers to seek financial support through international cooperation. Governments like Ecuador must be made aware of the strategic value of the banana sector. The future of bananas is and will be sustainable. To this purpose, growers can count on the support of the EU.

In conclusion, as producers and exporters of Ecuadorian bananas, we must not overlook our participation in the definition of the “Farm to fork” strategy. All stakeholders should ask the institutions and learn more about it. Let us resolve our doubts and let us not fail to put forward our ideas.