I believe at this point in the trip, it is time to admit that I hate coffee, no matter the quality. We’ve been to quite a few coffee plantations and studied the coffee supply chain a lot, so I’m glad the time for bananas has come. I want to look at the banana supply chain more closely, as it seems very different from the coffee supply chain, despite them both being lucrative industries for Costa Rica. Similar to the coffee supply chain, the banana industry must be looked at under the lens of sustainability, in order to really determine which industry would be better to work under.
It was easy to notice at the banana plantation that there’s fewer steps in the supply chain. Also, all the steps occur in one location, where as the coffee supply chain often has its steps split up into different locations. For bananas, they are sourced, made and sold (exported) all at the Dole plantation. However, coffee is often sourced from many smaller farmers, sent to another plant to be roasted and then exported. I believe this difference could be largely due to the high demand for coffee, as well as the greater variations of coffee that can be sold. The coffee industry in Costa Rica is worth about 310 million, while the banana industry is only worth around 25 million.
When looking at the sustainability of bananas, with the current goals of the country, there are some troubling challenges. The Dole plantation that we visited currently uses plastic bags in high volume, making their process under threat when the new carbon neutral mandate is in place. The bags are currently being reused, but plastic is not carbon neutral. Even if the bag is a bio-plastic, the manufacturing of such products are not a carbon neutral process. Given that the bags are needed to avoid bruising, keep out insects and create a microclimate in the bag (which allows the bananas to grow one week faster than usual,) it seems a suitable replacement will be hard to find. The company has already ruled out paper due to the rainfall which can be as high as 100 inches per year. Sustainability of the workers seems minimal, providing housing and medical aid, similar to the coffee workers’ benefits. However, not as much effort to help the community is made by the banana industry as the coffee industry, as they don’t have a program to teach about sustainability like Life Monteverde.
I would choose to work at a coffee farm, given the option between a coffee and banana plantation. Despite my love for bananas, if I worked at a coffee plantation I could still commute back home when the harvest season was over. Although the work seems more labor intensive than the factory work found in the banana plantation, the overall treatment and care taken to provide affordable food and social security seems to make up for the difficulty of the work.