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On an increasing scale, tropical fruit is being promoted in German retail stores with the aid of various conventional sustainability labels. In the view of the human rights organisation Oxfam, however, in most cases this is nothing less than a “fraudulent misrepresentation in the supermarket”. In its survey entitled “Sweet Fruit, Bitter Truth“, Oxfam criticises the production conditions and the use of pesticides on banana and pineapple plantations in Costa Rica and Ecuador which display the Rainforest Alliance label on their products.

Naturland sees the Oxfam survey as confirmation of its claim that only organic is really sustainable. This assessment was also recently corroborated by testers of Stiftung Warentest (an independent German consumer organisation) which evaluated six different sustainability labels. Their clear conclusion: “The Naturland Fair label sets the highest standards”. By contrast, Rainforest Alliance was rated by the testers as the label which makes the lowest demands: it focuses primarily on increasing production yet does not guarantee the smallholders minimum prices or bonus payments, for example.

Organic bananas are the result of hard work

Growing bananas organically is labour intensive. In the organic banana production the use of pesticides is prohibited. Instead, organic agriculture uses healthy, resistant plant material, lower plant density, mixed cropping and precautionary crop cultivation methods. This way of production is still profitable for smallholders due to the higher price they get for their organic certified bananas. Organic fair bananas also achieve stable prices through fair trade. In German supermarkets, one kilogramme of bananas costs just as little as it did 20 years ago. Bananas are actually even cheaper there than German apples. The consequence of these low prices is all too often a deterioration of income and working conditions in the countries where this product is grown.

Organic fair-trade bananas produced by smallholders – an example of how it can be done differently

They look like part of the jungle, the areas on which Naturland farmers grow bananas, the coastal region in the south of Ecuador. The banana trees grow in mixed cultivation between cocoa plants, trees grown for timber, papaya and other fruit trees. This diversified form of cultivation ensures high long-term soil fertility, and further­more helps to improve food and income security for the growers’ families. The pillars of this proven cultivation system encourage plant growth using mulch and mixed cropping, the use of organic fertilisers, and mechanical methods of weed control. Mixed cultivation reduces disease pressure and provides for a good supply of organic material which, combined with stone meal, effective micro-organisms and other substances, is converted into concentrated organic fertilisers. These not only fertilise the soil but also make the banana trees more resilient.

Internal control system ensures organic quality

The farmers are organised in smallholders’ co-operatives under UROCAL, their umbrella association. UROCAL was the first farmers’ organisation in Ecuador to tackle the organic production of bananas and make a success of it. With the assistance of Naturland, the co-operative was able to improve and consolidate its internal control system. The bananas are marketed in Germany by BanaFair, a fair-trade organisation. For years now, BanaFair has been campaigning for an improvement in the ecological and social conditions prevalent in the banana industry. UROCAL, which was founded at the time of Ecuador’s agricultural reform in the 1970s, is greatly involved in literacy and educational schemes and especially in women’s projects. The improvement of local food supply has been an important item on its agenda for a long time now. In 2014 a small shop selling fresh fruit and vegetables and with a delivery service supplying fruit and vegetable boxes was opened in Machala, the capital of the El Oro province. On a global scale, over 80 percent of the bananas destined for export are grown on large plantations. Smallholders only very rarely derive any benefit from this branch of the business.

Here is the link to the report "Sweet fruit, bitter truth"