Unsustainability In New Zealand’s Banana Supply Chain: What You Need To Know

Bananas take out the top spot as Kiwi’s favourite fruit, yet support for sustainable banana supply chains remain weak in the retail space.

New research released today highlights the unsustainability of New Zealand’s banana supply chain and the need for major retailers to do more to support banana farmers and workers in the cultivation of bananas in Ecuador.

According to Basic’s (The Bureau for the Appraisal of Societal Impacts and Costs) ‘The Big Squeeze’ report, commissioned by Fairtrade New Zealand, New Zealand’s banana market is placing a significant amount of pressure on banana producing countries, with small farmers and workers suffering the most from ever-increasing costs of production over the past decade.

Alarmingly the report found that while New Zealand has the highest consumption rate per capita for bananas, consuming more than 90,000 tonnes per year, only 18% of the retail price is paid to banana farmers and workers, compared to 40% for major supermarkets.

“Bananas are a clear Kiwi favourite when it comes to fruit and we believe New Zealand’s major retailers have an opportunity to educate consumers about the true cost of food and drive sustainability within the industry for the benefit of all,” says Molly Harriss Olson, CEO Fairtrade  Australia and New Zealand.

“Small farmers are not only struggling to compete on costs with larger plantations and traders, but workers are suffering from serious health issues such as cancer and a disease known as Taura Syndrome due to the high use and poor protection from chemicals used on conventional banana plantations and small farms,” says Harriss Olson

The report goes on to highlight evidence surrounding Fairtrade’s ability to offset such negative impacts of banana trade.

Fairtrade provides major economic benefits for producers with a guaranteed floor price (the Fairtrade Minimum Price) for bananas, as well as a Fairtrade Premium (an additional sum that is received by farmer cooperatives/associations, which currently sits at $1 USD per box of bananas), which is used to invest in housing, health, better environmental protection strategies and education.

“Fairtrade is key for banana producers because it offers not only a secure and stable price for produce and for plantation workers but it also means plantations are able to improve productivity and quality through the support networks and training provided through Fairtrade,” says Molly Harriss Olson, Fairtrade CEO Australia and New Zealand.

While the appetite for Fairtrade is high (domestic awareness sits at 79%) New Zealand’s major retailers’ Foodstuffs and Progressives, who hold 55% and 43% of the supermarket retail market, still have major opportunities to support sustainable livelihoods and fair prices when compared to their multinational counterparts.

The report showed that while retailers in the UK and throughout Europe have significantly adapted ethical sourcing policies, including a greater commitment to sourcing Fairtrade bananas, New Zealand falls well behind with only 1 in 14 of New Zealand bananas sold as Fairtrade.

“Whilst we have seen leading European retailers make 100% commitments to Fairtrade bananas, this is yet to happen in New Zealand. We acknowledge that retailers operate in a competitive environment where consumers are looking for bargains, but New Zealanders would not want that to come at the expense of a farmer’s  livelihood and well-being,” says Harriss Olson

While major retailers are yet to make strong sustainability commitments, independent retailers in NZ have been leading the way with the likes of Commonsense Organics selling 100% Fairtrade for the past five years.

The report concludes that major retailers in New Zealand, including Countdown, New World and PAK’nSAVE, need to commit to act on the problems faced by banana producing countries and consumers need to show them their desire for sustainable bananas.

You can read the full report here

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