Photograph courtesy of Aurelio Loret de Mola and Stephanie Pellny.
Equal Exchange, known primarily for its production of fair trade coffee, chocolate, and tea, is also working with bananas. While bananas are not as stable or lucrative a commodity as coffee or chocolate, Equal Exchange’s Produce Coordinator Jessica Jones-Hughes says that, “Bananas are the most bought and and sold produce item in the world, with one of the worst histories of trade and environmental damage, that’s where Equal Exchange wanted to make a presence.”
Equal Exchange educates distributors and consumers on the importance of supporting small farmers and fair trade supply chains and products. They explain “that small scale farmers are important to the future of food on every level and especially when it comes to sustainable growing practices. Small scale farmers who own their land are more likely take care of that land as it is their own. We believe small farmers are a very important part of the future of food and maintenance and enhancing of the land.” Equal Exchange is trying to educate distributors and consumers through webinars, videos, blog posts, and the distribution of online graphics and in-store in orders. Their first live webinar facilitated direct exchanges between growers and buyers, encouraging conversation and transparency.
Fair trade bananas are important for a variety of reasons. Large banana companies suppress the price of bananas, making it difficult for small banana farmers to earn a living wage. These corporations also restrict the ability of farmers to unionize—preventing them from negotiating for better wages and accessing healthcare, education, and retirement benefits. A handful of small farmer co-ops, like CEPIBO and El Guabo, have managed to rise above the oppression imposed by the large multinational companies. These small banana farmers worked with Equal Exchange to get access to benefits, such as healthcare, and are better able to support themselves and their families. They now have increased flexibility to invest in sustainable farming methods, and the ability to expose the challenges and nuances of the banana supply chain.