Fair Trade bananas, improving lives in Urabá, Colombia

Each year, over 30 billion pounds of bananas are exported throughout the world. With their short shelf life and huge demand, exporting and importing bananas is a tricky, time-sensitive business.

Luckily, for those of us who love bananas, the entire process, from when a banana is harvested to when it ends up in our shopping cart, runs like clockwork so we never need go a day without a banana in our bag, smoothie or bowl of cereal. But where do all of these bananas come from? And who is responsible for getting them halfway across the world to our local supermarket? 

It all starts with the farmers and workers who grow the bananas. Bananeras de Urabá in Colombia exports bananas to the U.S., and is the reason that banana made it to your kitchen counter. They have been in the banana business for over 50 years and have a workforce of over 600 workers. Bananeras de Urabá also happens to be a Fair Trade Certified farm, which means that the bananas they are growing and exporting are literally changing their lives. 

There are two key aspects of Fair Trade that result in these life changing advancements for farmers and workers. The first are the Fair Trade Standards, which are put in place once a farm has received certification to protect the farmers and the land they rely on. The second is the Community Development Fund, which is an additional amount of money farmers earn when you purchase a a banana with the Fair Trade Certified seal. The extra money is put into a worker controlled bank account and the farmers decide democratically how best to use this money to strengthen their farms, livelihoods, and communities. Let's take a look at how the farmers and workers at Bananeras de Urabá invested in their communities. 

Investing in the future

The workers of Bananeras de Urabá have voted to use their Community Development Funds in a variety of ways. A big investment that the group made was to incorporate more sustainable agriculture processes. This will benefit the plants, water, earth, and animals to ensure lasting, healthy plants for years to come. One method that this group utilized to protect the bananas from disease and insects was to cover the bananas with bags, which also reduces the need for chemicals. The farmers also planted large boré plants to prevent soil erosion, and protect the water in the irrigation canals that feed the vast rows of banana trees. 

 

Building communities

In addition to using Community Development Funds to improve crops and farming equipment, farmers and workers will often invest in their families and communities. A major project that Bananeras de Urabá undertook was building a bridge to create a more direct route for workers between their homes and the farm This might seem like a trivial investment from the outside, but for many workers it was a step that greatly improved their lives. A quicker commute means more time spent at home with their children, and a safer journey for individuals traveling at night. 

Once the bridge was completed, the workers turned their attention toward another, equally pressing matter: improving their homes. In 2009, construction was completed on an apartment complex that was built solely through money from the Community Development Fund. The apartment complex was quickly filled by Bananeras de Urabá employees and their families. Prior to moving into their new homes, farmers and workers were paying around $100 per month for small huts with mud flooring. Now, these same families pay $40 per month for their mortgages and live in homes that are twice as big and come with concrete flooring, which provides a much cleaner living space. 

In addition to being safe and more affordable options, this apartment complex also serves as a community hub for its members. Children of Bananeras de Urabá now have a safe environment to play, that is close to home and easily supervised by their parents. 

How you can help

Bananas are one of the most popular fruits in the U.S. today. So, choosing Fair Trade Certified bananas is an easy step that you can take to support the farmers and workers who grew them for you, like the people in Urabá, Colombia. In the U.S., Fair Trade Certified bananas are easy to find too. Major grocery stores like Whole Foods Market, Safeway and Kroger all carry them, and many smaller local markets have them as well. 

The farmers and workers of Bananeras de Urabá are excited about the future of their bananas, and the many opportunities that they bring for their families and community as a whole. They are already working on plans for their next community project, which will be to build a ‘thematic library’ to house a computer lab, library, and a theater for members of the local community to use. Every room, book and play in this library to come will be a direct result of each Fair Trade Certified banana that is placed in a grocery cart here at home.