Ecuador to aid banana growers in crop shift

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Ecuador to aid banana growers in crop shift

Replacing sections of banana crops in Ecuador with other tree plantations, such as teak trees, could improve national productivity, Deputy Agriculture Minister Luis Valverde said during the World Banana Summit.

According to the official, some crops are currently placed on soils not suitable for the fruit's development, El Universo reported.

Ministry statistics from 2011 indicate Ecuador produces an average of 1,200 boxes of bananas per hectare a year, a figure below countries like Costa Rica.

Valverde said a census of banana producers was conducted to determine the number of acres planted and which areas were suitable for farming.

He explained that credit is available through the National Finance Corporation (CFN) for farmers to change their crops if necessary. According to Valverde, the ministry will pay the CFN balance after a year and the balance will be for the producer.

During the plantation's first four years, the government will pay the full production cost for farmers with less than 25 hectares. For those with more extensive fields, the government will pay around 75%. The initial focus of the program, he said, is on the 6,000 banana producers with under 30 hectares.

Those who maintain their banana plantations will also receive financing to for upgrades to produce higher yield per hectare.

The plan, he added, means a US$300 million investment and the goal of converting Ecuador into a forestry power like Chile or Uruguay.

Some banana growers expressed doubts about the scheme. William Valencia, representative of Brazilian Association San Miguel (El Oro), said that with plans such as these there are fears the authorities will change the project and it will come to a standstill.

He added that achieving output from a teak plantation takes years, while banana producers are used to weekly cash flows.

Fausto Figueroa, a banana producer from Esmeraldas, said it would be difficult to abandon banana production because starting a new plantation takes an investment of around US$10,000 per hectare and the new infrastructure may not work.

He also mentioned that in the last few years, thousands of hectares of bananas considered illegal for production have been identified and adequate measures have not been taken against them.

Other producers, like Luis Valverde Chonqui from Guayas, believe that the measure could be positive but it would need wider support from smaller plantations.

The official project launch, according to Minister Valverde, will happen before the end of the year.

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