DR-Banana Tour

I had the unique opportunity to tour one as part of the Sustainable Food Lab Conference.  The Food Lab works collaboratively with private and public companies, NGO’s and anyone else that would like to help solve sustainable global supply chain problems. 

In some ways, the banana tour was a little underwhelming.  On the other hand, I took a non-drowsy Dramamine and I was almost comatose.  My body did not react well to that drug and I will never take it again.  Even though I was struggling I still managed to gather some interesting information. 

I didn’t get to witness the banana processing facility in operation but there were a number of water filled troughs and I assume the bananas are given a dunk in the tanks before being boxed.

This specific banana farm we visited features all organic bananas although other farms in this banana association are mostly organic and Fair Trade (FT) certified.  The majority of these bananas are sold to Europe and the Netherlands where the demand for FT and organic bananas is high.  Most of the organic fertilizers for the bananas come from Europe so this arrangement makes sense from a shipping standpoint.  The tariffs and levies also play a large role in determining profitable and available markets.

Bananas are bagged on the plant. The bag helps to deter pests and often times the bag contains chemicals offering further protection. This field was organic so the bag could still be chemically treated with an organic chemical. The colored ribbon hanging from the bag is an indicator of when the bananas should be harvested.

The conversation with the banana farm rep didn’t leave me confident in their certifications because he seemed very unsure of the whole process.  In his defense it isn’t his main job function but there was something that seemed not on the “up and up” about the process.  The farm employs 2 people to handle the certifications and much of this includes providing samples of banana leaves and fruit from their various banana farms across the DR to send off for testing of banned chemicals.  Growing organic bananas is more expensive because of input and labor costs but bananas are also susceptible to Black Sigatoka, an infection that can dramatically reduce yield of the banana plants.   

I am so scared of spiders and can’t believe I had the guts to take a picture and not run away shrieking! A baby banana spider, tarantula, hitched a ride with one of us on our cloths for about a 20 minute ride from the banana farm to our lunch location. This little spider was super-fast and a jumper!

This banana association chooses to grow organically because their customers have told them that organics are better because of the reduction in chemicals and it’s a part of sustainability.  The Dominicans are a resilient group of people and adjust accordingly in order to make a living.   

Bananas that don’t meet standards and part of the flower are collected and returned to decompose into the soil.

The farm tour guide didn’t know a lot about the FT portion of the banana farms that are a part of this particular banana association but he mentioned that he knew some funds had gone to help laborers that needed surgery.  As previously mentioned, this particular farm isn’t FT certified.

Random banana facts:

  1. You can make bananas grow longer in length by cutting off a small portion of the banana as it is growing.
  2. The markets (customers) are now asking for a banana that is 8′ in length compared to the previous 7 1/2″ banana.
  3. Banana plants last about 15 years and they bear fruit after one year.  This banana association starts new fields every 5 years.
  4. Bananas produce a “daughter plant” or farmers can take a cutting from an existing plant to produce another banana plant.
  5. There is no real demand for bananas in the DR or neighboring Haiti because there is no market.  Everyone can grow bananas in their backyard.
  6. Dominicans don’t wait until the banana or plantain for that matter is ripe.  They use them while they are green and starchier as well.

Another interesting fact.  Banana farms are often described as marching because the daughter plants all seem to form to the left side of the mother plant.  As a result the field literally moves when the mothers are cut down leaving the daughter plants.  You can imagine how this could happen by viewing the picture below.

Banana fields literally move with the arrival of the new daughter plants the mother plants are cut down and the daughter continues.
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