Weather lends a hand to Guatemalan bananas in 2012
Good weather conditions during Guatemala's raining season have sparked optimism for better banana production this year, according to one of the country's leading growers.
Agrofruit corporate director Bernardo Roehrs told www.freshfruitportal.com the crop could be 5-10% higher year-on-year if favorable conditions continued.
"We are happy because we are in a moment when there are usually heavy rains and flooding, but this year is shaping up to be fairly benign," he said.
"I don't think we are going to have any great difficulty in meeting the commitments we all have with the market, and that this will be a stable year.
"But remember that we are in the raining season and the situation could change today or tomorrow; in two days’ time I could be completely mistaken, but right now we are very optimistic that this year will be better than the last and our prediction is that it [volume] could be 5-10% higher."
He said the industry continued to consolidate its position with the competitive advantage of its proximity to the U.S. market, which receives the vast majority of the country's bananas while Europe has an intake of around 5-10%.
"Because of our closeness to the market we have a competitive advantage over the rest, and have the possibility to span the three American markets - the East, the Gulf and Pacific Coasts.
"Another competitive advantage is that, on average, we are able to produce some of the largest and densest bananas in the industry thus, in turn, enhancing our customers’ sales.
"Ecuador has large volumes and that affects us but we have a consistent volume and the possibility to change to different coasts, so we can compete very well."
He added Guatemala was still free of banana disease Black Sigatoka, but was prepared for its eventual appearance.
Motivation for consistency
Roehrs said consistent production was achieved through a mix of good farming practices and incentivizing workers.
"Firstly, there is the agronomic management part that includes fertilization, irrigation, drainage and pruning - we have different pruning systems systems to have more uniform fingers and at the sizes that clients demand.
"Sometimes we can have more fingers on the bunch, and sometimes we reduce this to keep quality in a consistent way.
"You can have the best agronomic practices but if you don’t give the right motivations to people, they bruise the fruit and those damages in the end can be very severe in the market."
He emphasized motivating staff to look after fruit across the supply chain was the most difficult thing to do.
"A lot of our programs involve incentives to award productivity; every year we select the best staff from every packhouse, and we give them a diploma, a t-shirt, a cap, a photo with the company president, and an economic award.
"We also have billboards so everyone can see their productivity; payments are very incentivized by productivity so that the best workers get more money with us.
"That motivates people to do a better job, so that they can earn more than other workers. This leads to great quality bananas."
The executive said in addition to trying to empower the company's 5,700 employees, it also sought to improve the lives of communities and had achieved GlobalG.A.P. and Rainforest Alliance certifications.
"Certifications today include stricter social components; we have some programs for the wives of our workers, rural people, and these programs involve teaching them better nutrition and hygiene practices for their children.
"A lot of our people get sick because they give contaminated water to their kids, and they don’t know the water is contaminated; so you have to teach them out to filter the water, and provide training so they can care for their children to be healthier and growing at a normal rate.
"A lot of the people in rural areas use firewood to cook with open fires inside the home, without a chimney to let the smoke out, so we provide stoves."
In addition with this work, Agrofruit works with communities to show them how to lobby the government for resources, such as clean drinking water, roads and schools.