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As I mentioned yesterday, our friendly Ecuadorian banana farmer, Wilson Sanchez, is a member of the Association of Small Banana Producers El Guabo, which brings together 14 smaller groups of banana producers (accounting for around 320 active producers in total). El Guabo is a pioneer in Ecuador in associative commercialization for the export of bananas under Fair Trade conditions and with organic certification. Here's a link to a good summary of El Guabo's work.

Outside a local El Guabo office.

So where does Heifer come in?

In January 2011, Heifer began implementing a project in partnership with El Guabo. The project, Strengthening the Productive Diversity of Agro-Forestry Small Holders in El Oro, Azuay and Guayas, will benefit a total of 200 families belonging to El Guabo who are considered vulnerable due to their low farm production.

While farmers earn a better price for their bananas through membership with El Guabo, their income and standard of living remain lower than they would like. They farm on steep land and lack sufficient irrigation to increase their yields. Family diets lack nutritional diversity as most of the effort is put into growing bananas for export.

Wilson Sanchez

Sanchez and his fellow Heifer participants, however, are receiving irrigation systems, livestock and training. By growing five or six different crops (bananas, cocoa, citrus, timber trees, etc.), they're not only diversifying their sources of income, but their diets as well. Sanchez is raising hogs–a gift from Heifer–that he feeds excess bananas not fit for sale. In the coming year, Heifer Ecuador will work with participants to teach them how to grow vegetable gardens for their families' consumption (kitchen gardens are less common in this part of the world so focused on exports), which will allow them to feed themselves and rely less on external markets.

Heifer will also provide capacity building and organizational strengthening for local partners within the El Guabo network.

So where do you come in?

Buy Fair Trade bananas!

Sure, they're more expensive. But those extra pennies per pound support small farm families, provide medical clinics in banana-growing communities, pay teachers' salaries to educate the children of banana farmers, provide retirement benefits for the hard-working farmers who grow the fruit we have come to rely on year-round.

Want to do even better?

Make sure the Fair Trade bananas you're buying are certified organic, too.

Yes, it's true: not all Fair Trade bananas are created equal. There are actually three classes of bananas sold under the Fair Trade label. Conventional Fair Trade bananas are grown on small family farms and must meet the same social requirements as organic, but they still use chemicals that are harmful to the planet, the producer and the consumer. Organic Fair Trade bananas are grown using organic standards, but still rely on the monocrop model, which is not only difficult to do, but it also means the farmers are vulnerable in their lack of diversity (income and diet). Agroforestry Fair Trade bananas are what our participants are growing, and they go beyond organic standards. Unfortunately, there is not currently a method used to distinguish agroforestry Fair Trade bananas from organic Fair Trade bananas. This is something the folks with El Guabo recognize as a weakness, but the onus is on us, the consumers, to demand more. I'm still working out the best way to do this, but one place to start is to tell your grocer you want to know: are these organic Fair Trade bananas agroforestry bananas?

Here are some interesting banana resources:
Equal Exchange
Green America
Fairtrade International
Fair Trade USA
Banana Link
The Banana Trade War (an article)

And we're not the only ones talking about Fair Trade bananas this week. Nourishing the Planet has a guest post up today from Jessica Jones of Oke USA Fruit Company, which is the company purchasing El Guabo members' bananas.


Brooke Edwards

Brooke Edwards is from Little Rock, Arkansas, and started working at Heifer International in 2009 as a writer. She and her husband raise two daughters in a house way too small for their four pets. They spend a lot of time sweeping.