Banana Production and the Environment

Sarapiqui Travel Blog

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workers at the dole plantation
Banana production around the world is eating away at our most precious treasure, Earth.  The pesticides used in banana production are destroying the environment at a visibly rapid rate.  Rainforests, and other natural treasures, are disappearing to make way for banana plantations.  Furthermore, mass banana production creates an enormous amount of waste which is hardly ever disposed of in an environmentally sound way.  These factors make large scale banana production a major contributor to the destruction of the worlds beauty, animal life, and environment.
    Plantations such as Dole, Del Monte and Chiquita place and extraordinarily high value on the aesthetic nature of their bananas.  Their commitment to producing the largest bananas possible with absolutely no physically apparent flaws oftentimes comes at great cost to the environment.
sorting into bunches
  Pesticides are used as a preventative measure against insects who could potentials harm the appearance of the bananas.  Chemicals are seen as the most effective way to maximize harvests by eliminating the threat of pest outbreaks.  However, "spraying these chemicals when the target pests are not present kills more beneficial predators than pests." (http://www.panda.org)  Many of the pesticide routinely spayed on banana crops have proved to be toxic to birds and fish, both of which would normal prey on the insects banana companies seek to eliminate.  In cases such as these, banana producing corporations have shown themselves to be extremely overzealous in their use of poisonous chemicals.
    Of the major tropical fruit crops, bananas produced for international trade are the most pesticide rich.
  "In Costa Rica, at least 280 different pesticides are approved for use on bananas and an average of 44 kg/hectare/year of active ingredients are applied to bananas." (http://www.panna.org)  In fact,  about one third of the total production cost of bananas in Costa Rica is spent on pesticides.  And the amount of pesticides used in banana plantations is steadily increasing.  "In 1991 Costa Rica imported U.S.$56 million of pesticides, in 1994 $84 million, and in 1996 $100 million." (http://www.panda.org)  This amount of chemical use is extremely detrimental to the environment.  Bananas are most commonly grown on the on the fertile, flat lands of coastal areas.  Tropical areas are ideal for banana plantations because there is such an abundance of water and banana's require a huge amount of water daily.
the "bad bananas"
  However, in rainy places, such as Costa Rica, there is still a large excess of rain water.  Consequentially, vast amounts of hazardous chemicals are washed away into the surrounding wetlands and costal regions daily, killing fish and other creatures who drink from the water.  The contaminated fertilizers used in the banana export industry introduce yet another environmental concern.  "It is well documented that 60 - 85% of all fertilizer is lost via leaching and/or runoff." (Usher and Pulver 1994)  These fertilizers contain nitrogen, potassium, calcium and phosphorous; chemicals that kill fish, eliminating an important food source, and destroy surrounding ecosystems.  "In some areas, soil has become so infused with pesticides that it is now unfit for agriculture.
" (http://www.panna.org)  The pesticides used in mass banana production is not only destructive to the environment today, but for the water and lands of the future.
    The expansion of banana plantations requires land; rainforests and family run farms are disappearing at the will of banana producers. "In Costa Rica, the government has assisted this process by changing land use classifications to allow plantation production. From 1979 to 1992, banana expansion was responsible for deforestation of over 50,000 hectares of primary and secondary forest in Costa Rica's Limon Province." (http://www.panna.org)  In Costa Rica, banana companies not only have the power to change laws to their benefit, but also the nerve to completely disregard the those that seek to protect the environment.  In addition, independent banana producers who sell their product to the exporting companies continually  cut into forest areas to expand their crops.  This transformation takes gradually; not often will a farmer cut more than a few hectors into the forest in one year, but multiplied by thousands of small production farmers, the forests are slowly, but surely, being eaten up by banana plantations.  Costa Rica is still one of the most biologically diverse habitats on Earth, but the threat banana production places on the future of forest conservation is huge.
    In search for more land, banana producers pressure family farmers to sell their lands to the company.  Threats are placed on these farmers to ensure they abide.  "Farmers are also prohibited from producing traditional creole bananas in an attempt to avoid spread of the banana fungal disease Micosphaerella fijensis (Black Sigatoka)." (http://american.edu/TED/)  Commercial producers hold family farmers in the palms of their hands, and it is no wonder why many farmers don’t make it, and end up wage workers on corporate plantations.
    On banana plantations, the improper disposal of waste is inherent.  "Twenty percent of the waste requires special treatment." (http://www.panda.org)  In the banana industry, the sheer amount of wastes produced matches the amount of product fit for export.  "Yet in Costa Rica the Ministry of Health found that 78% of plantations did not dispose of waste properly." (Astorga 1998)  Organic waste, such as banana plants, and bananas rejected for export are produced it such mass quantities that banana companies don’t even bother to compost them.  Instead they are simply thrown away, or dumped in piles at the edges of plantations, or in rivers, where their decomposition kills fish.  In addition to organic waste, banana plantations produce a shocking amount of plastic waste.  Plastic bags encase each banana stalk to protect it from climate fluctuation and bugs, and plastic twine hold each stalk erect so that it doesn’t collapse under the weight of the bananas.  "The plastic bags were being discarded improperly killing fish, smothering birds and choking turtles." (http://american.edu/TED/)  Few programs exist to properly dispose of the plastic waste of banana plantations.    "In 1995 the IUCN estimated that 4,510 metric tons of plastic bags and 4,832 metric tons of polyethylene rope were generated by Costa Rica's banana industry." (http://www.panda.org)  Even more detrimental to the environment are the pesticide containers which can't be disposed of separately because they contain harmful chemicals.  Banana plantations produce waste rapidly with very few resources for the proper disposal of it.  The waste problem among plantations is a clear example of the environmental irresponsibility among banana companies.
    Banana production comes at a huge cost to the environment; pesticides, deforestation, and waste are increasing steadily as the natural beauties and wildlife disappear.

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workers at the dole plantation
workers at the dole plantation
sorting into bunches
sorting into bunches
the bad bananas
the "bad bananas"
Sarapiqui
photo by: txmissie