FAO program boosts efficiency for small Dominican banana growers
The United Nations' (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has embarked on a project to improve the organic banana growing practices of small farmers in the Dominican Republic, with the aim of reducing waste, improving quality and raising competitiveness. At www.freshfruitportal.com we speak with FAO consultant Joaquín Díaz about the realities facing growers in the Caribbean country.
Díaz highlights the importance of training programs for growers with small farms of less than three hectares, who account for around 70% of the country's organic banana production.
"This program will allow growers to be more efficient in handling the fruit, and more productive," he said.
The Dominican Republic is currently the world's largest organic banana exporter and Europe is its main market, purchasing 95% of shipments at a value of US$200 million annually.
"It's important to improve efficiency as 30% of production is rejected because the bananas are marred or scratched.
The training involves growers learning how to use protective sheets, commonly known as 'cuellos de monja' or 'nuns' necks', which allow banana hands to be seperated so that each bunch has an average of nine hands, of which the six above are considered for export.
"This is a very old technique that the big banana growers in Costa Rica and Ecuador use, but for issues of costs small growers don't, and that's why the FAO is incentivizing the adoption that reduced organic banana rejections by between 40-50%."
Díaz says each sheet costs around five cents but it can be used five or six times on the same surface if the weather conditions are right.
"A lot of the time small growers don't adopt technologies that improve production because they are expensive, however this technique is reusable and gives very good results.
"We want small growers to be able to export."
Under this slogan with training underway, Díaz highlighted growers were now more qualified to export to foreign markets, were more productive, and were opening new markets like Russia and North America.
"After an exercise done in France, the small growers decided to create a Banana Trade Export Consortium, an NGO that will allow them to trade products without having to pass through intermediaries.
"It's a long process but they have been in contact with North American importers."
The FAO is also training growers in farm management, Black Sigatoka disease control, micro sprinkler irrigation technology, marketing and sales.
"This [irrigation] system is very efficient for increasing productivity and also helps to save water, as farmers are currently using a flooding system."