So skewed is global banana trade that it was one of the primary reasons for the collapse of the Doha Round of world trade talks in Geneva last month. ‘Bananas Split World Trade Talks’ quipped Reuters, spawning a spate of icecream flavoured headlines around the world.
International groups like Banana Link have mounted campaigns to ensure fair trade in bananas. These programs are primarily aimed at giving indigenous Ecuadoreans a fair deal, but also help growers in countries like Australia compete on a level playing field.
Australia is a minor player in the banana games. Around one quarter of a million tonnes are grown here every year, almost all of them in Queensland. Australian growers are worried about disappearing under an avalanche of imports from tropical neighbors like the Phillipines.
Less careful producers in countries without strong regulatory frameworks can produce bananas more cheaply because workers are not paid properly and the environment is not protected. Worse, for the future of our industry these imports are potentially dangerous. A tropical fruit, the banana is prone to a number of infectious diseases, primarily fungii, that could rapidly spread throughout the Australian industry.
The eighth banana industry congress will be held at Jupiter’s Casino next June under the banner, Fresh Directions. Among other things, it will look at ways to ensure the Australian banana industry remains vibrant, robust and sustainable.
Among the efforts to guarantee a long-term future for local banana grower is the rapidly expanding organic farming movement. The Tweed River Organic Producers Organisation, TROPO, held its annual general meeting in Mullumbimby last week and a noted significant increase in sales of organic produce, not only through local farmers markets but on the peripheries of the region in the Gold Coast proper and major centres to the south.
Coffs Habour based Geckhos Banana’s is a marketing collective that represents growers who attempt to minimise the use of dangerous chemicals on the plantation. Geckhos website notes that the company has no plans to be organic, but simply wants to use â€œthe bare minimum of chemicals to grow our fruit, while still giving the consumer a tasty, and nutritious banana.â€ Growers have to sign a legal contract that leaves them open to prosecution if they break the rules.
Because of the cooler weather, NSW bananas grow less rapidly, but have a stronger sweeter taste. There is a significant opportunity for local growers to capitalise on this difference and promote the extra quality that these conditions provide.
Any sustainable farming approach uses integrated pest management, minimum tilling and maximum use of natural fertilisers to create a healthy environment that results in good crops and better soil health, ensuring a long term future for the farm. Many banana plantations are short term enterprises that rely on repeated inputs of nutrients from external sources to maintain a rapidly depleted soil.
To remain top banana, and ensure an ongoing connection with the festival that bears its name, Tweed’s banana growers need to consider natural approaches to farming.