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Sep 7, 2011

FYFFES? Banana Industry crisis caused by hard rains

Belize exports bananas to Fyffes; the first fruit brand in the world and arguably one of the most important fresh produce companies in Europe. But banana production is under threat after two nights of thunderstorms battered the country’s banana belt. That means that exports from the south of Belize to Fyffes’ headquarters in Ireland and the United Kingdom will drop by forty percent and millions of dollars are projected in damages. Four million tones per year are exported but that will now reduce significantly at a time when market prices are holding their own. News Five’s Delahnie Bain reports from the South’s battered banana belt.

Delahnie Bain, Reporting

From a bird’s eye view, the banana farms in the south appear normal, but on the ground it’s a completely different story. After two nights of thunderstorms, the banana industry has suffered millions of dollars in losses with forty percent of the overall crop being damaged.

Sam Mathias

Sam Mathias, General Manager, Banana Growers Association

“All the farms in the industry were hit to a certain degree and losses would have been between ten and fifty or sixty percent depending on which farm you look at. But overall I would have thought—and again this is preliminary—you’re looking at a loss of around twenty million US dollars.”

Eugene Zabaneh, Banana Grower/CFO, Banana Growers Assn.

“The trees that have blown down or the trees that have fruit, that’s thirteen weeks of bagging figures of fruiting and that’s twenty-five percent of our total yields. It’s three months of the year’s production that’s gone. At present we have been exporting between ninety to a hundred and five thousand boxes per week and I think with some good luck probably we may be going all the way down to thirty or forty thousand boxes per week.”

Elroy Forema

Winds of up to fifty miles per hour split some trees in half, while others were completely uprooted.

Elroy Foreman, Manager, Delta Pride Farm

“We have a loss of like forty to fifty percent. Actual fallen plants is thirty percent and the fruit that we have hanging, we have scarring; natural scarring because the bunches were being battered by the winds. The movement creates scarring on the fruit. To pack it, we would have to throw away most of the fruit because the quality specs is of high standard.”

Filancio Castaneda, Owner, Farm 1

“The bunches that have been produced; shot plants, most of them have been damaged. And the un-shot plants also, they are broken but the majority is the fruit loss.”

Delahnie Bain

Filancio Castaneda

“So what do you do now?”

Filancio Castaneda

“What we have to do is to chop them good, chop the bunches because those cannot be commercially exported; look at the jacks that are good, start to put fertilizer, nematicide, incorporate it to the soil again to be strong. The weak ones, dig them out and replant it; just like starting a new farm. And this will take about six months to nine months to produce again.”

Francisco Cruz, Owner, Farm 13

“I have to identify a financing source and then we have to look for the labour so that we can rehabilitate as soon as possible. The idea here is to do it as fast as possible to get rid of everything damaged and to wait for your next crop coming to get it in good shape.”

Francisco Cruz

Delahnie Bain

“So how long do you think it will be before you are back on your feet?”

Francisco Cruz

“I think it’s about six months before I can start to get something back.”

But apart from fallen trees, there are other factors that contribute to the losses in the industry.

Elroy Foreman

“When we have the mother plants that fall over, there’s an interruption in the production unit. We have the mother plant, daughter and granddaughter. When the mother plant is removed the daughter plant becomes an orphan and that is converted into a very unproductive sucker which doesn’t give a commercial bunch and we’ll still have to throw it away.”

Sam Mathias

“The losses are not just the blue bags you see on the ground, it’s also the damage to the fruit that is hanging up and was shaking around. Although you can’t see it immediately, once that fruit is harvested and put in the processing tanks, you start to see the damage and because of that damage the fruit cannot be packed and cannot be exported.”

The banana industry is extremely vulnerable to weather conditions and was already struggling financially, before disaster struck this week.

Eugene Zabaneh

“The industry has just come out of one of the worst stress caused by the drought that we have suffered and that has really put a heavy burden on the cash flow of the industry. We have had to be spending three times as much as we normally would spend on irrigation and again it had an impact on our yields, our production. So we’re just coming out of a very difficult period to now have the disaster thrown on us, which we were hoping that we would now be recuperating from that long hard dry that we have suffered.”

Sam Mathias

“We had crop insurance—well some farms had crop insurance—prior to October 2001 then we had Hurricane Iris which basically destroyed all the farms. Now after that event, crop insurance went up I think three fold or maybe even fourfold and it was no longer economic; it was just not feasible to have crop insurance any longer. So no farms at the present time have crop insurance.”

Eugene Zabaneh

“During the past we had a disaster fund set up and during last year we accessed those funds because of the large damages that we were having from floods. Last year we had three large funds and we had to use up the funds that we had to offset the losses and to rehabilitate our levies and our roads and drainage that the damage that was caused by those floods. So we totally exhausted those funds.”

The industry stakeholders hope to meet with government, Fyffes and other lending institutions to finance the rehabilitation of the farms. Delahnie Bain for News Five.

According to the farmers, the industry has not recovered from the financial devastation caused by Hurricane Iris in 2001.

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