The Realities of Banana Farming

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The Realities of Banana Farming

Lukas Graf, Staff Writer

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In the last century, the banana has grown to become a well-known and well-liked fruit in America and the world as a whole. But have you ever thought about the history and growing conditions of bananas? Most people know very little about the dark history of the banana.

Although bananas have been around for a long time, it wasn’t until the late 1800s that they came to America, where they were readily accepted. This caused the need for banana related agriculture to increase. Around the same time, 1899 to be exact, the United Fruit Company was formed; thus, the powerful fruit empire was born. Over the next 70 years, United Fruit would go on to form secret ties with repressive government regimes and establish a small military force. This allowed the United Fruit Company to create a long supply chain from South and Central America to their markets in America and Europe. In order to maintain their high outputs and low costs, United Fruit used military forces to oppress their workers and squash any attempted formation of workers unions. The Banana Massacre is an example of this violent oppression; On November 12, 1928, the Columbian army opened fire, under strict instructions from the United Fruit Company, on protesting banana plantation workers, killing over 1,000 innocent workers.

Fast forward to the 21st Century, and you will find that major banana producing companies, such as Dole and Chiquita, are still not so hospitable. Although they don’t massacre their employees, they still put them at high-risk of chemical poisoning, harm the areas that surround the banana plantations, pay workers very little, and support a terrible work environment with unenforced labor laws. As a result of the banana industry’s necessity for low production costs, massive amounts of fertilizers and insecticides are dumped onto the crop. Rather than growing bananas organically and allowing the plants to fend off bugs and disease naturally, the chemicals make sure the plants will survive and output the number of bananas needed, regardless of negative environmental effects. These harsh chemicals are frequently sprayed from crop duster planes in large quantities. However, where the chemicals actually end up landing is fairly indiscriminate. This is because a lot of these chemicals end up falling onto nearby towns. As a result, the number of mentally disabled and people with health problems is much higher in the towns that border banana plantations, compared to those that don’t. The people who work in these chemically saturated plantations are uncompensated for the health risks they face every single day, earning, on average, a meager $50–70 per week. Many of these workers go on to develop major health issues linked to chemical exposure and receive no form of healthcare or assistance for their health problems.

The exploitation of these workers is a tragedy that has sadly gone unnoticed by most of the world. Many of these people live in desperate poverty and work in incredibly poor conditions just to scrape out a meager living. While progress has been made to protect these workers from the dark days of the massacres, more must be done to protect them. On top of that, the environmental effects of this type of farming are staggering, and will probably affect the environment for years if not decades to come. With luck, more attention will be drawn to this issue, so that the workers and planet no longer have to suffer in silence under these conditions.

Sources:

Jones, Chester Lloyd. “Bananas and Diplomacy.” The North American Review, vol. 198, no. 693, 1913, pp. 188–194. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25120060.

Kurtz-Phelan, Daniel. “Bananas: How the United Fruit Company Shaped the World – Peter Chapman – Book Review.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 2 Mar. 2008,

“Banana Land – Blood, Bullets & Poison (English).” Vimeo, 14 Feb. 2019, vimeo.com/129550053

https://www.hrw.org/news/2002/04/24/ecuador-widespread-labor-abuse-banana-plantations