Today, we took a two hour bus ride to the Atlantic coast of Costa Rica to visit Perla 2, one of the Dole fruit company’s three banana farms in Costa Rica. Comparing how coffee and banana farms operate, coffee farms tend to have more steps overall from growth to end of production, depending on whether the farm decides to pick or roast beans, or a combination of both. While coffee farms are focusing more on biodiversity within growing their crop, banana farms stick to a monoculture operation, as its more efficient with the way bananas are harvested to only grow banana plants. Moreover, banana farms have a much more rigorous process for harvesting and washing their product, as they follow a strict protocol due to the current issues ravaging banana firms, which will be addressed shortly. Within the supply chain, there are fewer roles within the banana industry’s chain compared to the coffee industry’s chain. This difference occurs because coffee offers the opportunity to either grow, roast, or grow and roast your own beans. With bananas, the final product is just the fruit that has been harvested. I believe this lack of an opportunity for product differentiation in bananas, combined with the history of Costa Rica, is why Dole and Chiquita maintain their status as an oligopoly in the industry of bananas.
Due to the monoculture farming in bananas, the crop is vulnerable to diseases and different fungi that can wipe out entire harvests. At the moment, a mutated version of an old fungus known as Tropical Race 4 (TR4) has infected banana crops in Southeast Asia. Costa Rica produces a significant amount of the millions of bananas that are consumed every year. Therefore, as long as TR4 stays alive, Dole has to require everyone in the area to verify their past travels and wash their shoes before entering the banana farm. While it may seem like just a minor inconvenience, it’s odd to imagine most bananas in supermarkets disappearing just because someone did not completely wash their shoes.
Once we were in the farm, our tour guide discussed the environmental strides that Dole takes in their banana production. They do not use any chemicals or pesticides in their process, recycle plastic sheets used to protect the bananas in transport, and make use of crop waste with their own natural fertilizer. The most impressive sustainable action, in my opinion, is their process for recycling water. When we were inside the washroom, I could not help but notice the excessive amount of water the bananas were submerged and rotated in through the cleaning process. For Dole, they use a finite amount of water and clean it naturally in a separate area on the farm. It was impressive that they were still able to make strides in being environmentally friendly when one of their processes is challenging in that regard.
Now, when comparing the lives of coffee farmers and banana plantation workers, it’s apparent that working on a banana plantation is superior. Off the bat, banana farmers are paid $28 per hour in their line of work, with an additional 50 cents to each earned dollar being deposited into a retirement fund. Coffee farms are required to pay their farmers a minimum of $2 for every 25 pounds of fruit (known as a cajuela) that they pick, and can penalize their workers financially if they pick too many young berries. While farms all pay their workers more than $2 per cajuela, it still would take much more work on a coffee farm to equal what a banana farm worker makes in a day. Even more, banana workers are provided housing and air conditioning, and have work throughout the year, while coffee is a seasonal crop. Overall, comparing the two industries, working as a farmer for bananas would be much better than working for a coffee farm.