LatAm banana associations slam new Rainforest Alliance rules - FreshFruitPortal.com

LatAm banana associations slam new Rainforest Alliance rules

Latin American banana associations have slammed the recently announced new standards of the Rainforest Alliance certification program, saying their concerns were not considered.

Producers and exporters from Ecuador, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Guatemala held an extraordinary meeting on July 16 with representatives of the Rainforest Alliance, following what they describe as "the alarm caused by irregularities ...during the standard-setting process".

The meeting was convened after the publication of an open letter in which banana producers of these countries - which together account for 65% of world banana production - called on the Rainforest Alliance to clarify the consultation processes, saying their comments were not taken into account.

"On the one hand, RFA claims to encourage open and democratic spaces for dialogue -it received more than 200 opinions. But on the other hand, our survey shows that barely 2% of our contributions were taken into account," said  Emerson Aguirre of AUGURA in Colombia.

The associations say the norm published two weeks ago shows "critical differences with the one submitted in 2019" and has not been preceded by the corresponding consultation periods.

Furthermore, banana producers are disappointed by the lack of regional perspective in the rules, which they say do not take into account the main challenges and problems faced by the region, such as Covid-19 and its economic consequences, Fusarium R4T, Black Sigatoka, among others.

"The priority now is to resume the processes of dialogue. We all want to reach an agreement with RFA," said Julio Mérida of APIB in Guatemala.

According to producers, the growing gap between the Rainforest Alliance and market reality threatens the regional industry.

Likewise, banana unions pointed out that RFA has made no progress in the perception and participation of consumers, since the price paid to the producer "does not compensate the immense effort and related costs that we have made in recent years both in social and environmental matters", said Juan Jose Pons, Coordinator of the Ecuadorian Banana Cluster.

"Our investment is not reflected in the final price, it has had no return, quite the contrary, European supermarkets always impose lower and lower prices."

In this regard, banana producers clarify that "we want to protect the environment and guarantee social standards, we all agree on that, but RFA does not respect the environmental and social legislations of our countries of origin, which have been designed by our Governments considering the balance, needs and objectives of each particular case", said Pons.

"This inclination to regulate in parallel causes inconsistencies in the whole chain, not to mention that it is sort of a regulatory anomaly."

"This sort of decision from RFA jeopardizes an industry that creates formal employment for thousands of families -complying at the same time with national environmental and social legislation,” said Jose Francisco Zuñiga of ASBAMA. 

In the same vein, regarding phytosanitary standards and social rights, "RFA is got to get itself back: an organization to which we trust -on a voluntary basis-, solely and strictly, the certification of standards requested at destination, and it should not usurp competences that correspond to public authorities", Pons said.

Likewise, banana producers questioned the absence of technical arguments in some RFA’s bans "for instance, on the use of drones, the ban lacks scientific arguments. We are facing serious problems if standards are inspired by unfounded dogmas", said Jorge Sauma of CORBANA in Costa Rica.

The meeting ended with RFA committing to convene technical working groups between LatAm producers and RFA's technical representatives with decision-making competences.

"Given the circumstances, we demand new standards to come into force not before January 2022," said Richard Salazar of ACORBANEC.

"During mid-September our affiliates close purchase deals with our international costumers and we need a realistic labelling partner to work with. Either we reach an agreement with RFA, or we will need to look for alternatives", said José Antonio Hidalgo of AEBE.