Among the Banana Herbs

Our final site visit of the trip took us to one of the Dole Banana Plantations. The tour included all the steps in the process conducted on the plantation. First, we learned about the growing process on the farm itself, including how the plant grows, the bagging of the fruit to protect it from bruising as it grows, and how to remove the bunches from the plant. Then, we toured the factory where all the cut bunches go to be cut into smaller bunches, then are washed, and finally packaged for shipping.

One of the main differences between this site visit and all of our coffee site visits was the Dole plantation controls the entire supply chain for their bananas up until the packaged bananas are sold to supermarkets or other buyers. This includes the growing, processing, and the shipping, which is the final step in their supply chain that we did not see today. As we learned, most coffee farmers are only responsible for the growing process, and then the beans are sold to roasters, who then either sell the product themselves or continue the supply chain to buyers who sell to customers. Dole has simplified their process and kept more money in their pockets by controlling as much of the supply chain as possible.

Another difference between the coffee industry and banana industry is the workers and their benefits. The coffee industry relies heavily on foreign workers from Nicaragua, who arrive just for the short harvest season and receive many accommodations for their short stay like shelter, food, and healthcare. Their wages are low, but there is the possibility to make enough money to live more comfortably back in their home country than if they remained in their home country for work. However on the Dole Plantation, there are fewer obvious benefits for the Nicaraguan employees other than a decent wage. Costa Rican employees receive benefits in the form of a tax paid by Dole that goes towards social security and other welfare initiatives. For these reasons, it is most likely more practical for foreign workers to look for work on coffee farms, where the season is short, but the benefits are more abundant. On a banana plantation the work is just as hard and finding a home and settling in Costa Rica is another necessity for these workers that those in the coffee industry do not have to worry about.

While there are many differences between the two industries, one common factor is sustainability. Many coffee farmers are looking towards clean solutions to issues with fertilizers, waste water, and waste product. With the help of ICAFE, waste water is being eliminated and cleaner fertilizers and pesticides are being used to reduce the effects of runoff. The Dole plantation has also taken some similar steps, especially in terms of recycling their water and ensuring its cleanliness before returning it to the environment. However, both industries are still struggling with the use of plastics: the coffee industry relies heavily on it for packaging coffee to maintain flavor and the banana industry relies heavily on it to protect the growing bananas.

Another similarity between the coffee and banana industries are the issues with disease. Coffee rust is a huge problem right now because of how quickly it spread among coffee crops. For bananas, the mono-culture production of these plants mean that any disease that affects one plant will likely impact all of the plants due to their identical genetics. However both are taking initiatives to control these problems. In the banana industry, this means many necessary precautions to prevent humans from transferring the detrimental TR4 fungus to Latin America, including denying access to the farm for those from certain countries. For both of these industries, disease has the power to destroy both the crops and economic success of the companies.

Overall, today’s site visit displayed many differences in the supply chains of the two industries, but also demonstrated that some issues are common to all agricultural businesses.

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