Productivity investment needed for Ecuador's bananas, says researcher
An Ecuadorian scientist says the country needs to improve the productivity of small banana farmers to get out of crisis, website Elcomercio.com reported.
Coastal Polytechnic School (EPSOL) Center for Biotechnology Studies of Ecuador (CIBE) director of plant pathology Pablo Chang, told the website it wasn't trade agreement issues that were holding the industry back but structural problems with technology.
"The problem is not a lack of trade agreements. This happens every year, especially July, August and September as these are the months when students in the European Union and the United States go on vacation and demand is drastically reduced," Chang was quoted as saying.
"The problem is structural and arises from producers not having access to technology to reduce costs. 55% of growers are people who have less than 15 acres and only have 12% of the land. In contrast, large producers amount to 11% but have 52% of the country's total banana area.
"The problem with banana farmers is that they do not want to invest in research and they only worry about having profits with their production. They complain that there aren't research centers or technological support, but they are reluctant to support studies that help them improve their production."
Chang argues the emergency funding would be put to better use if it went towards improving quality and increasing productivity, while he does not agree with providing funds now and doing nothing when times were good.
He said costs were also higher for small growers as they did not have adequate irrigation technology to improve spraying systems and did not have fixed quotas, while a lot of effort also had to go towards controlling disease.
"Some 30% of the costs are concentrated in controlling Black Sigatoka. We must correctly monitor and continuously apply fungicides but some do not kill the fungus. For that we have to foster a new seeding system such as the hexagonal, which allows for a larger population of plants in the same area," Chang was quoted as saying.
"Two years ago the Center for Biotechnology Studies of Ecuador (CIBE) proposed a program to enhance banana productivity to the CIBE, but there was no interest. It deals with a clean spray system that would lower costs of production and benefit small banana growers.
He said accessing new technology was not expensive, while the examples of Colombia and Costa Rica showed that the right political and business decisions could improve yields, the story reported.
Chang also called on larger growers to share their technologies with smaller growers to help improve the country's productivity.
Photo: Enrique Pesantes, El Commercio