If we do not permit the earth to produce beauty and joy, it will in the end not produce food, either. Joseph Wood Krutch

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Banana, nana fofana

I made a comment about fair trade bananas a couple of days ago in my blog to to which someone responded "I was not aware of the banana farmer/worker experience". I wasn't aware either until a couple years ago when I saw a video of a banana worker holding a huge hand of bananas while another worker sprayed insecticide, dousing both the bananas and the worker. It was reported that this man ended up sterile from being doused with so many chemicals and had other ailments as well. I tried to locate that video on Youtube but was unable. I was certain it would have ended up there. I plan to keep looking for it. Undoubtedly it is floating out there on the web somewhere.

I wanted to give some of the facts about bananas that many people aren't aware. The facts may surprise you.

Fact 1: Bananas are the worlds most popular fruit. Banana are so popular sales amount to ten BILLION dollars per year. Yes that is a lot of bananas. They are the fourth most important crop after rice, wheat and maize and some civilizations still live primarily on bananas. 96% of Americans buy bananas at least weekly.

Fact 2: Bananas do not grow on trees and are really the fruit of the worlds largest herb...the Musa Sapientum. They contain more digestible complex carbohydrates than any other fruit. They are fat free. (Note: freeze bananas and then whip them into delicious smoothies in the blender.) Bananas are very low in allergen potential and make perfect baby food.

Fact 3: In Ecuador, where a great deal of bananas are grown, workers receive about a dollar per day in pay.

Fact 4: If you are a banana farmer, you are paid as little as one and a half cents for every pound of bananas you grow. Often that is less than it costs to produce the bananas.

Fact 5: Bananas are the most profitable item in the grocery store and account for 2% of the profits. Ever wonder why there are huge tables of them. Sometimes even two or three.

Fact 6: Chiquita, Dole and Del Monte control 65% of the worlds banana market. They are now beginning to offer Fair Trade bananas but it is still a very small part of their market. Chiquita and Dole alone control 50% of the worlds bananas. Only 14% of the bananas raised are actually exported. The rest are eaten locally.

Fact 7: Dangerous pesticides are applied to bananas forty times by airplane during the growing cycle. Ninety percent of this insecticide does not reach the bananas but instead drifts through the air onto the workers and nearby residents. The insecticide of choice is usually Paraquat or DBCP, which are highly toxic to humans. Growers wrap the bananas in plastic and cushion and these wrappers are then removed by hand exposing workers again to the insecticide at close range when harvesting.

Fact 8: Workers often develop severe neurological disorders such as muscle pains, nausea, dizziness, organ damage (eyes,liver and lungs, male sterility) from insecticide and fungicide poisoning.

Fair Trade

Fair Trade coffee has been on the market for years. Fair Trade bananas not quite as long. What fair trade does is add a layer of monitoring to the process to improve the quality of life for the growers and workers and puts limits on the pesticides used. It guarantees fair prices, fair wages, and safe working conditions. Personally, I go one step further and pay the ninety-nine cents per pound and buy the Fair Trade organic. Then I know I am not taking advantage of the disadvantaged and I am not exposing workers to dangerous chemicals on my behalf. The difference in cost is usually about forty cents per pound.

For more information just Google or Yahoo fair trade bananas. Here is an excerpt from one report by Human Rights Watch that gives just one small example of the banana travesty.

"Human Rights Watch interviewed forty-five children who had worked or were working on banana plantations in Ecuador. Forty-one of them began in the banana sector between the ages of eight and thirteen, most starting at ages ten or eleven. They described workdays of twelve hours on average and hazardous conditions that violated their human rights, including dangerous tasks detrimental to their physical and psychological well-being. The children reported being exposed to pesticides, using sharp tools, hauling heavy loads of bananas from the fields to the packing plants, lacking potable water and restroom facilities, and experiencing sexual harassment. Children told Human Rights Watch that they handled insecticide-treated plastics used in the fields to cover and protect bananas, directly applied fungicides to bananas being prepared for shipment in packing plants, and continued working while fungicides were sprayed from planes flying overhead. Sometimes the children were provided protective equipment; most often, they were not. These children enumerated the various adverse health effects that they had suffered shortly after pesticide exposure, including headaches, fever, dizziness, red eyes, stomachaches, nausea, vomiting, trembling and shaking, itching, burning nostrils, fatigue, and aching bones. Children also described working with sharp tools, such as knives, machetes, and short curved blades, and three pre-adolescent girls, aged twelve, twelve, and eleven, described the sexual harassment they allegedly had experienced at the hands of the administrator of two packing plants where they worked. In addition, four boys explained that they attached harnesses to themselves, hooked themselves to pulleys on cables from which banana stalks were hung, and used this pulley system to drag approximately twenty banana-laden stalks, weighing between fifty and one hundred pounds each, over one mile from the fields to the packing plants five or six times a day. Two of these boys stated that, on occasion, the iron pulleys came loose and fell on their heads, making them bleed."

Source: Human Rights Watch Report on Bananas

We have become deliberately oblivious people in our country. It is assumed that if the product is on the shelf it must be OK and certainly it was produced by kind loving people. It simply isn't true. We live in a world that finds money more important than people. What is a human life when a dollar is to be earned. I abstain from waxing religious or biblical in my blogs but the best source I can find for the motivation behind this is in the Bible in 1 Ti. 6:10. which reads in part "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil." So true.

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