Go bananas for Fairtrade: How UK trade is lifeline for Caribbean workers

The Mirror looks at the impact of fair trade on the St Lucian banana industry in this article by Ruki Sayid.

Young mum Lucian Charles has been up since 4.30am, making breakfast and getting school uniforms ready for her two girls, before heading to the fields to put in a 10-hour day.

Like millions of working mothers, Lucian, 33, juggles her family life and career to make sure the children don’t miss out – but her life some 4,000 miles away on the Caribbean island of St Lucia is directly linked to how we shop in Britain.

Lucian is a Fairtrade banana farmer and her crop is destined for ­Sainsbury’s stores.

Without the support of UK families who buy the fruit she grows, she would struggle to make ends meet or give Jaide, nine, and Antiz, three, an education.

In St Lucia, Fairtrade is a lifeline. Without it, there would be no bananas on the island and Lucian looks heavenward at the thought of how she would raise her children on a hand-to-mouth existence farming pigs instead.

Five years after Sainsbury’s made the bold move to ensure all its bananas were Fairtrade, Lucian is showing the supermarket’s chief ­executive Justin King around her three-acre plantation in La Cave.

She says: “It used to be called green gold because you could plant on a small area of land and nine months later you would have a crop to harvest and sell.

“Everyone could grow bananas.”

But the last few years have seen the green gold almost depleted as drought wiped out crops. Farmers rebuilt their livelihoods, but two years ago ­Hurricane Tomas battered the Windward Islands, decimating banana plantations.

Now, in a triple whammy, farmers have been hit by black sigatoka, a fungal disease that ruins crops by ripening bananas quickly on the plant while the skin remains green.

It has devastated plants and forced hundreds to abandon their farms.

Acres of plantations riddled with the disease are rotting away because the expense of fungicides forces farmers out of business.

Three days into Fairtrade Fortnight, the organisation’s executive director Harriet Lamb looks out at the blighted land and says: “This is why banana price wars drive me mad.

“They are putting the industry and small holders in peril.

“Bananas are bread and butter to farmers and, when ­supermarkets start to play the price war game, it devalues the product and the sheer effort that goes into producing it.

“The irony is that British families don’t buy any more bananas just because the price has dropped.” Luckily for Lucian, Fairtrade ensures she gets a fair price and Justin admits while Sainsbury’s has to “play the game”, all the farmers that supply Sainsbury’s are protected as the chain takes the hit.

“Banana price wars don’t affect the producers,” he says. “But we have to get involved otherwise we would be punishing our customers by selling at a higher price than elsewhere, or punishing our producers by buying less bananas from them.”

The chain sells around 1,200 bananas a minute – that’s 650 million a year, with 26 million eaten over Fairtrade Fortnight alone.

Budget brand Basics and the smaller eight-pack for ­children are grown at Lucian’s farm, which has one other full-time worker.

Each banana in the £1.15 Basics bunch is around 8in, while those in the £1.37 children’s pack are an average of 6in – but all are cut from the same plant.

Any banana with a blemish is cut away and either sold locally or used for animal feed.

Lucian, who cuts, washes and packs the bananas with some part-time help on harvest days, says: “When the hurricane struck two years ago, I thought I had lost everything.

“The farm was gone – flattened – and there was debris everywhere. But with the help of six strong men, we cleared all the rubble by hand.

“We managed to salvage most of the plants and I had a crop around nine months after replanting.

“But if Fairtrade and Sainsbury’s hadn’t given me a promise they would buy what I could grow I would have given up, like many other farmers.

“That’s why, when I harvest the crop, I hand-pick every banana as if it were for my own children.

“I know these bananas are going to the UK and they will be picked by mothers just like me, who are doing their best for their families.

“By choosing St Lucian bananas, they are making a huge difference to my life and to the lives of all the farmers’ families here.”

Last year, sales of Fairtrade products across the UK hit £1.32billion, up 12% from £1.17billion in 2010, with ­Sainsbury’s accounting for a quarter of all sales.

The chain already offers 100% own-brand Fairtrade bananas, sugar, tea, coffee and hot ­chocolate.

Justin says: “We have covered the major ­commodities, the challenge is now to put Fairtrade ingredients into ready meals.

“Even though we are going through tough times at home, as a country we have a great sense of what’s around us.

“Generations have been brought up on Live Aid, which has connected us to the idea we have a responsibility to others.

“Fairtrade works beautifully because it fulfils that role and creates a sense of hope.”

The Fairtrade farmers who sell to Sainsbury’s receive around £5.30 per 18kg crate compared to £3.74 a box for farmers who sell non-Fairtrade bananas elsewhere.

Sainsbury’s pays a Fairtrade premium of one US dollar per box on top, which is used to benefit the communities – from buying them sports facilities and computers to scholarships and health care.

At the Aux-Lyons Combined School, 40 minutes from the capital Castries, 10-year-olds are learning about space thanks to a bank of 15 PCs paid for by the Fairtrade premium.

Pupil Teddy Edwin, who is the youngest of seven children, says: “The computer makes it very easy for us to learn about so many subjects and to find out about other children’s lives, too.”

The hope Fairtrade brings to St Lucia is pinned so firmly to ­Sainsbury’s, that Justin was summoned by PM Kenny Anthony for an ­assurance that the chain would not pull back from its commitment as farmers battle to save crops from black sigatoka.

Around 20% of the Fairtrade bananas in Sainsbury’s are from St Lucia but disease and natural disaster have caused the export figure to halve.

Justin says: “We are committed to the farmers of St Lucia – they have made a connection with our customers and we will not let them down.” No wonder they reckon he’s top banana.

For the original report go to http://www.mirror.co.uk/money/personal-finance/go-bananas-for-fairtrade-how-uk-746470

One thought on “Go bananas for Fairtrade: How UK trade is lifeline for Caribbean workers

  1. I had been told that Windward Island bananas had been banned from this country by the EU. They are my favourite bananas – far superior to Columbian and after reading this article I’m off to Sainsbury’s to see if I can buy some. Well done Fair Trade!

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