Heavy rainfall and flooding which devastated much of the Dominican Republic’s organic banana production late last year is having a lasting effect as farmers struggle to rehabilitate plantations, some of which have needed to be completely replanted. PBUK looks into what has been happening since a tropical storm hit last November and how low prices are contributing to losses.
It will be at least September or October before banana plantations start truly recovering from the floods that battered the Dominican Republic’s key growing region of Palo Verde.
For months farmers have been rebuilding the sector which was partially wiped out when heavy rains fell for around three weeks. Consequent floodings were exacerbated when the banks of the Yaque del Norte river broke, flooding even more fields.
Banana Link international coordinator Alistair Smith has just returned from visiting the plantations where grower associations are rebuilding their livelihoods.
Speaking with PBUK he explained how some producers are getting volumes back, while many others will have to wait until the autumn for new plantings come onstream. And how, as long-term advocates for retailers to increase prices so farmers get better returns, Banana Link wants to ease the pressure on supply chains.
“There are two scenarios; one is that some producers were able to rehabilitate their farms, although they were damaged by flooding but not irreparably. And the second scenario is where the crops were completely useless because of waterlogging and people are replanting,” he says.
“In the first scenario people are coming back into production volumes such as they would have been last year and in the second they’re not going to be onstream again until September or October time.
“There is a drop in volumes even though there is expansion going on, that is not enough to compensate for the losses for the flooding last November.”
Smith says the mood on the ground is desperate for some people whose livelihoods and homes were destroyed.
“Recently I was with one association which has more or less been wiped out because they were right next to the main river so their farms and their homes were pretty well completely lost.
“Even though the government has put up some money for replanting, it’s doesn’t cover the homes that were destroyed or credit for imports. It allows them to replant but there is no finance and a serious loss of income to deal with as well.
“It is not easy at all. For those who are rehabilitating rather than completely replanting it is easier, but everyone is determined to continue on their path to being the world’s leading producers of organic trading bananas.”
Waitrose has increased its banana prices by a few pence and some reports are speculating that other supermarkets will follow suit, but Smith says the current conventional system allows banana producers “no room for manoeuvre”.
“In relation to a price rise, it’s tiny. It’s not a sustainable and fair price but the retailers are in this crazy price war which, in our view, they have to get out of. The UK is 60% of the Dominican Republic’s market.
“Waitrose’s move is a step in the right direction and there was another step at the end of last year when bananas went up from 68p a kilo to 72p a kilo, but that’s still a price that gives absolutely no room for manoeuvre for the producer whose costs tend to go up rather than down. It’s still a unsustainable price – that’s our message.
“We would like the retailers to take their responsibility for paying a price which allows producers and their employees, to move towards living wages and living incomes. That is more the case in the Fairtrade system but in the conventional system there is no room for manoeuvre if you are supplying the UK market in particular.”
Unemployment in the Dominican Republic sector
The country’s Ministry of Agriculture’s initially estimated 4,500 hectares of plantations were damaged in the main exporting areas of Mao and Montecristi by Tropical Storm Otto. However, officials added another 1,000 hectares to damaged land after assessing what happened in Palo Verde.
Since November there has been widespread unemployment in the Caribbean nation.
“Banana Link offers our moral support to workers affected, particularly those who have been laid off because there is no work in the short term. While the crops are growing, obviously people don’t use anywhere near as much labour while they are replanting compared to full production,” adds Smith.
“Several thousands workers have been laid off and we are trying to mobilise some financial support. Starting again from scratch takes around nine to ten months.”