How high is the cost of cheap bananas really?

Looking into an average shopping cart, you will find the whole world. Your potatoes and apples might have grown on a tree near you, but your pineapple definitely haven’t (assuming that you live in a cold Northern country like me). To ensure a fair trade and sustainable agriculture and production for the benefit of everyone on this planet, we should look out for organic and fair trade labels when we shop.  

BY MARIA LENTZ-NIELSEN 

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The smell of freshly brewed coffee. The taste of a delicious avocado toast. Freshly baked banana bread, anyone? Who could ask for more?

Well, you could ask for decent work conditions for the people producing it. 

Many of us take these tropical products for granted in the Northern countries. We forget to ask, how they ended up in a cooled super market when they they were cultivated under a burning sun in a warmer climate? If only your banana could talk, it would tell you. But it cannot. So I’ll tell you instead. 

Let’s zoom out from the supermarket fridge and start somewhere else. In the late 19th hundred, the US and Europe went through the industrialization. Production efficiency increased when machines took over manual labor, and when production was faster, earning money was faster. Or, for the people who owned the machines, earning money was faster. For the workers? Not so much. Many worked long hours and long days for a small salary. (Don’t tell me this sounds familiar – regardless your first world problem – this was worse).

Joke aside, though, this is still happening. Not so much in the Northern countries anymore, but to a large degree in the Global South. We hear of factories in poor shape collapsing, child labor and pollution due to no environmental concerns.

This is kind of a first world problem too. We cannot just close our eyes and think that work conditions and environmental impact on nature are not our problems.

So how did that banana get here? Let me introduce the economic term the value chain. Production is like a chain where each part creates value to the final product, but not every part is equally valuable. The raw material are the cheapest and the branding the most expensive. Developing countries often deliver the raw material (the banana) and a country near you does branding, marketing and sale. There are good reasons for this. A career in marketing is longer and more costly than farming and the cost of living is often higher in developed countries than in developing countries. But it still seems a bit unfair. Changing the whole system, though, is too great a task. But we can influence the share of value that each parts get. Redistribute a bit, one could say.

By buying fair trade products we ensure that the first parts of the chain, the banana farmer, gets a fair price for his bananas. The big banana companies should naturally guarantee a fair wage and good working conditions, but sometimes money speaks louder than moral so the consumers, you and me, should remind them of that when we do our shopping. Steer that shopping cart towards the fair trade label! 

The conscious reader (and consumer) would add, but what about just buying local instead? That is a very valid point, and we should all buy locally when possible, but certain things just don’t grow where we live. And closing our markets around ourselves will not create any development for the developing countries. Sustainability is not only about the environmental impact, but also about the social. We are all here on this planet to coexist so we might as well trade with each – on fair terms – create more wealth and enjoy the specialties that the world has to offer. Personally, I would not give up coffee or chocolate. But I will definitely do my best to get the fair traded products.  

Goods are produced for people to buy them, so if we don’t buy them, they won’t be produced. So let’s ask for better production.

 

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