¡Los gringos dicen “go bananas,” y los Ticos dicen “se vuelva loco”! Bananas was the topic of the day given that we visited a Dole banana plantation. Formerly known as the National Fruit Company, Dole grows and exports tropical fruits such as bananas and pineapples from Costa Rica. It is interesting to learn about the differences and similarities between the two separate supply chains of coffee and bananas, especially since they are both unique in their own ways. Beginning at the raw material end of the coffee supply chain, companies like Doka Estate grow coffee plants and produce their own coffee cherries. Companies like Doka must plan efficient and effective strategies with regards to how to turn the coffee cherries from a coffee plant into coffee beans. They then deliver these beans to roasting companies such as Café Britt. Café Britt is a coffee roaster that deals with the marketing chain, which is the forward direction of the supply chain that flows toward the customer/end user. Coffee roasters receive beans from companies like Doka, roast those beans and then sell the roasts to its customers. Companies like Café Britt are responsible for planning efficient and effective strategies concerning sourcing materials like the coffee beans, making new products and delivering its products to customers. Designing, advertising and launching new products are all duties of a company who markets the coffee roasts to consumers. These consumers can either be retailers, wholesalers or end users like you and I. Bananas, on the other hand, travel through a supply chain that appears to be mostly vertically integrated. Dole is one company that seems to be vertically integrated, combining two or more stages of the production process that are normally operated by separate companies. Dole grows bananas, cuts them off the banana herb, transports them using a cable system to a washing station, then does quality control checks throughout the process until they are finally carefully packaged, marketed and shipped. Both supply chains deal with generally the same ideas, but each chain does business differently since coffee and bananas are two uniquely different products.
In terms of sustainability, Dole is trying to protect the environment, its workers and the community. Dole is different from companies working within the coffee supply chain because Dole, while having endeavors to protect the environment, is not as sustainable as coffee companies in Costa Rica. Coffee companies appear to do everything in their power to maintain and increase sustainability in their business practices. Dole, however, has continued to use plastic in their production process even though it is a contaminant. The company utilizes plastic for three reasons. Firstly, plastic helps to protect banana stems from insects and mechanical damage, and it enhances fruit development. Secondly, it acts as a twine that props the banana plants to prevent them from tipping over. Lastly, it acts as a sheath to avoid quality problems, particularly scarring, during finger growth. Dole is currently working on research and development to create and use a type of material with similar characteristics as plastic, but without contaminants. To increase sustainability while still using plastic in their production process, altogether Dole in Costa Rica recycles over 2,000 tons of plastic per year.
Banana plantations like Dole must mitigate some threats that they face during the production process. For instance, since merely one species of banana constitutes about 99% of the commercial market, there is the fear of the negative effect of an existence of new diseases. Due to a lack of biodiversity, if a disease affects one banana, then almost all other bananas would be susceptible to the disease as well. It is possible that such an epidemic may occur in the future, specifically with a fungus known as TR4. This is a threat that banana plantations face due to the riskiness of a lack of biodiversity. Plantations like Dole try to mitigate this threat of new diseases with continual research as well as with precautions like making sure workers and visitors wash their shoes with water and then an iodine solution before entering the plantation. In addition, people are not allowed within the plantation if they are wearing any items that have recently been in select countries within the past six months prior to visiting the plantation.
If I were a plantation worker, I would prefer working on a coffee plantation rather than a banana plantation. While banana plantation workers get paid $28 per day and work all-year long, coffee plantation workers are more involved in sustainable business practices than are banana plantation workers. Also, while working on a coffee plantation would be a seasonal job, it would give me the chance to experience working in other types of plantations when coffee is not in season. Who knows, maybe I could work on a coffee plantation when coffee is in season, and then on a banana plantation when coffee is not in season—the best of both worlds!