The first five months of the year are usually the most difficult for our small-scale banana farmer partners due to weather difficulties. Problems due to the rainy season are expected. However, what’s happening this year is unusual. The intensity of the rains has put our farmer partners and the Oké USA banana team against new challenges that we were unprepared for. There has been a lot of creative problem solving and last minute decision making in order to fulfill orders on time. In these challenging times, we do everything on our end in order to support our farmer partners by: coordinating with shipping lines, giving credit to buy inputs such as boxes, and supporting staff through logistics and technical assistance, all in order to help them harvest the fruit and fulfill orders on time.
We asked Leticia Gutierrez, a producer and the logistics coordinator at CEPIBO co-op, how its members are faring with the rains. “The [El] Niño phenomenon is affecting us too much,” she said. We got the same answers from others partners in Piura. The torrential rains in the coastal zone of Peru indicate that the El Niño phenomenon is present again, affecting agriculture and the communities of Piura and Tumbes in an unprecedented way.
The presence of the El Niño phenomenon during this season is an unusual occurrence. In 2016, the El Niño phenomenon occurred in the Caribbean islands, mainly affecting the agriculture of Cuba. Usually the El Niño phenomenon occurs in intervals of two to seven years. Why is it unusual now? It is present again on the coast of Peru a year later. El Niño affects the normal patterns of rain and local climate that are essential for the agricultural production and food security of the communities. This year, El Niño resulted in a drastic switch from extreme drought to intense rains in Piura.
How are the rains affecting our banana farmer partners?
Equal Exchange works with two cooperatives in Piura that are producing and exporting organic and Fair Trade bananas. Together, there are 1,300 small-scale banana producers that are members. The average farm size is 1.25 hectares (3 acres) and all depend on banana production to support their families. If the weather is not on their side, they will be impacted considerably.
Our producers also rely on community services to obtain agricultural inputs, food, and education (see this related post, Why Do Banana Farmers Organize?). Additionally, access to the main roads is integral in exporting bananas. If these systems and the local climate are dysfunctional, then everything becomes complicated. During these torrential rains in Piura, 20 percent of our farmer partners have suffered considerable losses, which include:
- Lack of basic necessities: The homes of our farmer partners have suffered considerable damage. Their families have run out of food and water. CEPIBO co-op is supporting them by providing food and water.
- Destruction of communication, irrigation, and infrastructure systems: This damage makes it impossible to transport bananas from farms to the collection centers, pack sheds, and ports due to the difficulties in accessing main roads.
- Damage to the root system of banana plants: Productivity is at risk, in fact there is a possible risk of losing farms completely. The root system is the brain of the plants; if roots are damaged, the banana plant will not be able to reproduce. The yield per plant per year will decrease significantly as well.
- Major supply interruptions and possible loss of customers: While supply interruptions would lead most importers to change suppliers, Equal Exchange stays with the producers, honoring the contracts and supporting them through long-term purchasing.
- Decrease in productivity by 35 percent: In terms of numbers, this means instead of obtaining 1,000 boxes of bananas per hectare per year, farmers will only obtain 650 boxes per hectare per year. Considering our small-scale producers rely on their 1.25 hectares as their main economic activity, this decrease has a domino effect on livelihoods.
- Destruction of schools and community infrastructure: Many schools were destroyed due to flooding. Now the challenge for small-scale banana producers is even bigger; they have to rebuild their communities.
The path for our farmer partners to recover is challenging due to the dysfunctions of the system they already live in. Rebuilding communities and rebuilding infrastructure requires government support and policies in favor of the people. Not to mention, there are other long-term impacts associated with the impacts on productivity, such as loss of market share due to lack of order fulfillment and possible outbreaks of plant diseases. Both of these impacts imperil the economic viability of our small-scale banana farmers.
What can we do to support banana producers?
- Tell families, friends, and co-workers about the situation in Peru and how small-scale farmers have been affected.
- Support organizations formed by small-scale banana farmers, like CEPIBO, through your purchasing of their bananas.
Photos courtesy of CEPIBO co-op.