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Exploring the Global Banana Industry: Production, Trade, and Challenges

banana industry


Do you ever wonder how many types of bananas exist and what makes them different? There are over 1,000 banana cultivars grown and consumed locally worldwide, but the most commercially popular is the Cavendish banana, contributing to nearly half of the global banana production. Farmers prefer the Cavendish variety because it yields high production per hectare and has a shorter stem, which makes it more resilient against environmental factors like storms. Furthermore, Cavendish bananas have a remarkable ability to recover quickly from natural disasters. Globally, over 50 billion tonnes of Cavendish bananas are produced each year.

Most bananas exported to the US and European markets are of the Cavendish variety, as they are more suitable for long-distance trade. Likewise, Cavendish bananas are the predominant type produced and consumed in China, while in India, they account for a quarter of the overall banana production and consumption (according to Bioversity).


Do you need clarification about the difference between bananas and plantains? Plantain is a variety of banana that belongs to a large group of bananas with more than 100 cultivars. Often, the term "bananas and plantains" creates confusion because plantains are, in fact, a type of banana. These words are used interchangeably in languages like Spanish, where the term "plátano" is used for both bananas and plantains.

Different banana cultivars have diverse characteristics and are grown for various purposes. For instance, dessert bananas like the Cavendish variety can be consumed raw as they are sweet and easy to digest when ripe. Conversely, cooking bananas such as plantains are usually starchy even when mature and require boiling, frying, or roasting to be edible. Some cultivars can serve both purposes.


Do you ever wonder how many bananas are produced globally? Unfortunately, obtaining accurate figures on total global banana production is difficult. For instance, around 70-80 percent of the production in Africa comes from local bananas that have been on the continent for over a thousand years. These bananas are predominantly used for cooking and are a vital staple food. According to available data, global banana production grew at a rate of 3.7 percent between 2000 and 2015, reaching a record high of 117.9 million tonnes in 2015, up from approximately 68.2 million tonnes in 2000.


Do you know which countries produce the most bananas? Bananas are predominantly grown in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. The largest banana producers are India and China, which had an average of 29 million tonnes and 11 million tonnes per year, respectively, between 2010 and 2015. However, production in both countries mainly serves the domestic market. Other major producers include the Philippines, which produced an average of 9 million tonnes per year between 2010 and 2015, and Ecuador and Brazil, which had an average of 7 million tonnes per year.


Did you know that roughly 5.5 million hectares of land are dedicated to banana production globally, according to the latest available data from 2015 (FAOSTAT)? The rapid expansion of the banana industry is evident in the evolution of the harvested area over time. In 1993, the harvested area amounted to 3.6 million hectares; in 2000, it increased to 4.6 million hectares (according to FAOSTAT).


Do you ever wonder how much bananas can be produced per hectare? Well, the productivity levels of banana production vary by country and banana variety. Generally, in commercial banana production of the Cavendish variety, the average yield per hectare ranges from 40 to 50 tonnes. However, some large producers in countries with well-established industries, like the Philippines and India, can achieve average yields of around 60 tonnes per hectare. In comparison, smaller producers in other countries may only produce approximately 30 tonnes per hectare.

According to data from the Philippines, there is a significant gap in productivity levels between different types of bananas. Varieties like Saba (a cooking banana from the ABB cultivar) and Lakatan (a dessert banana from the Cavendish group), primarily produced for the local market, have an average yield per hectare of only 11-13 tonnes (Philippine Statistics Authority).

Overall, the banana industry has made rapid productivity improvements, with the average yield increasing from around 14 tonnes per hectare in 1993 to 21 tonnes per hectare in 2015 (according to FAOSTAT).


The increasing consumption requirements of rising populations in developing countries have been the main driver of fast production expansion in the global banana industry. The bulk of the worldwide production increase has come from top producers who are also top consumers, such as Brazil, the Philippines, and particularly India and China. Moreover, growing health awareness in Western markets has contributed to rising demand, with banana consumption gaining popularity among European and North American consumers.


banana plantation

Producing countries have primarily increased the harvested area to meet the growing demand for bananas. Improved productivity at the farm level, involving better irrigation systems and higher application of fertilizers, phytosanitary measures, and pesticides, has also enabled production growth. In recent years, India and China have driven the most substantial production expansion in response to fast growth in domestic demand. Between 2000 and 2015, both countries nearly doubled their harvested area and achieved a yield increase of 24% and 53%, respectively.


The banana production cost mainly includes labor, fertilizers, phytosanitary control, and pesticide use. Expenditures on fertilizers and pesticides have recently increased due to higher unit prices and, more importantly, a higher frequency of use. For example, in Ecuador, the largest exporter of bananas, the production costs for commercially traded bananas are mainly comprised of direct and indirect labor costs (38%), agrochemicals and other inputs (40%), transport (7%), and the remainder for materials, general services, equipment, and so on (according to AEBE, Ecuador's Association of Banana Exporters, 2013).


Have you ever wondered how much revenue the global banana industry generates in dollar terms? Based on 2016 export figures, the industry generates around USD 8 billion annually. However, it is essential to note that only 15% of banana production is traded in the international market; the rest is consumed locally, especially in large producing countries like India, China, Brazil, and some African countries, where bananas are a significant part of people's diets.


Which country has the most significant banana industry in GDP or sales? In some of the largest exporting nations, earnings from banana production weigh heavily in net agricultural output. According to an assessment of production and trade figures from 2013, bananas ranked as the top export crop in terms of value in Ecuador, second in the Philippines and Costa Rica, and third in Colombia and Guatemala. Regarding agricultural production value, bananas accounted for one-quarter of production in Ecuador, nearly one-fifth in Costa Rica and Guatemala, and approximately one-tenth in the Philippines.


The leading exporter is Ecuador, which accounted for an annual average of one-third of the total global banana export volume between 2010 and 2016. Other significant exporters include the Philippines (14% volume share between 2010 and 2016), Costa Rica (12%), Guatemala (11%), and Colombia (11%).

Most exports from Central and South America are directed at North American markets, western Europe, Japan, and the Russian Federation. Meanwhile, exports from Africa and the Caribbean are primarily traded in the European market, and exports from the Philippines are in the Asian market. Colombia, Peru, and the Dominican Republic are the top exporters of organic bananas.


Do you know which countries are the biggest banana importers? By far, the largest importer is the European Union, which accounted for an annual average of 29% of total global imports between 2010 and 2016, followed by the United States (27%). Other noteworthy importers include the Russian Federation (8%), Japan (6%), and China (5%). The United Kingdom is the primary importer of organic bananas.


Have you ever wondered why some top banana producers do not export? Well, it's simply because their autarky price at their borders is higher than the international price. Moreover, access to and participation in the global trade of these top producers hinges on other factors, such as the absence of supporting trade policies, the proliferation of preferential agreements, and the lack of competitiveness, which may hinder many producing countries' entry into the international market.



Which countries are the primary consumers of bananas? There are wide varieties of bananas (mostly non-traded), and statistics on consumption need to be more sketchy. Filipinos reportedly have the highest per capita consumption, around 60kg/year, followed by Brazilians (similar number). However, in many African countries such as Uganda, Rwanda, and Cameroon, per capita consumption exceeds 200kg of bananas (all types, including non-Cavendish and plantains). Especially in rural areas in these countries, bananas can provide up to 25% of the daily calorie intake. According to some estimates, more than 100 billion bananas are consumed each year globally.


How do bananas contribute to food security? Revenue generated from trade in bananas plays a vital role in the food import bill of producing countries. For example, banana export revenue covered 40% of Costa Rica's food import bill and 27% of Guatemala's in 2014. Bananas have a particular significance in some of the least developed and low-income food-deficit countries, where they contribute to household food security as a staple and income generation as a cash crop. Research conducted in ten banana-producing countries revealed that income from banana farming accounts for some 75% of the total monthly household income for smallholder farmers.

Who are the major players in banana production and trade?

Five large multinational companies are engaged in producing, purchasing, transporting, and marketing bananas. These companies are Chiquita, Fresh Del Monte, Dole, Fyffes, and Noboa. Fyffes, based in Ireland, mainly supplies bananas to Europe. In addition to these companies, major supermarket chains in the United States and European Union are increasing their bargaining power in global trade by purchasing from smaller wholesalers or directly from growers. For instance, in the United Kingdom, supermarkets sell 80 percent of the bananas available to consumers. This gives leading British supermarket chains such as Tesco, Sainsbury's, and Asda, who account for around 60 percent of banana sales in the retail sector, significant influence over import prices (Bananalink, 2014).

How have banana prices changed? Are prices increasing?

The banana market is highly segmented, and domestic price movements often differ from international ones. In recent years, import prices in large markets such as the European Union and the United States have remained stable at around USD 0.90-1 per kilogram. Retail prices have shown more varied movements, with retail prices in the United States remaining broadly stable, while retail prices in France have increased significantly between 2010 and 2016.

Fuel prices, particularly the cost of bunker oil, which affects the cost of banana transportation, also influence prices in the international market. In local markets, banana prices may vary considerably depending on the exchange rate of the local currency against the United States dollar.

What are the threats to banana production caused by diseases?

Banana production continues to face a severe threat from the Fusarium wilt fungus, also known as Tropical Race 4 (TR4), which attacks the plant's roots and blocks its vascular system. This fungus race was first discovered in the 1990s in Malaysia and Indonesia and has since spread to other countries in Asia, including China, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. TR4 has severely affected banana production in these regions, posing a significant threat to the livelihoods of local populations, especially smallholder farmers. Australia is also affected by the disease and is taking measures to contain outbreaks.

Do banana diseases threaten food security in developing countries?

The impact of TR4 on food security in developing countries has so far been limited. The disease predominantly affects the Cavendish variety, mainly for the international market demand but also crucial for local consumption. However, TR4 is considered a severe threat to food security because once the disease is established, there is no means of eradication. Access to disease-free planting materials and weaknesses in implementing necessary phytosanitary measures make developing countries vulnerable to the disease, particularly smallholder banana farmers. The discovery of TR4 in northern Mozambique in 2013 has sparked concerns that the infection may spread to other countries where bananas represent a lifeline for food security.

What other challenges does the banana sector face?

Bananas are among the most produced and consumed foods globally. Their large-scale production often involves harsh methods to control irrigation and plant diseases, which can significantly impact soil, water, air, animals, humans, and biodiversity. Rising production costs are also a significant challenge, compounded by high levels of competition among international traders and leading retail chains, which exert intense downward pressure on prices. This puts pressure on workers' wages and already impoverished smallholder farmers, hindering their ability to cope with other challenges in the sector and invest in sustainable production methods. Low prices are a significant obstacle for producers in dealing with different challenges in the industry as they greatly hinder the payment of decent wages and investments in sustainable production methods.

Are there any initiatives to address the issue of diseases affecting banana production?

Several initiatives address the issue of diseases affecting banana production, such as the Global Programme on Banana Fusarium Wilt (GCP/RAS/287/JPN), which aims to prevent and control the spread of TR4 and develop a global response to the disease. The program involves:

  • Strengthening national and regional capacity for the surveillance and management of the disease.
  • Promoting clean planting materials.
  • Developing integrated disease management strategies.

There are also initiatives focused on promoting sustainable and resilient banana production, such as the Better Banana Project (BBP), which aims to improve the livelihoods of smallholder banana farmers and their communities in Latin America, Africa, and the Caribbean through sustainable production practices, improved market access, and more substantial farmer organizations. The BBP works with farmers to adopt agroecological practices, reduce pesticide use, and diversify their production to increase resilience to climate change.

Additionally, the Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) Partnership Project on Banana aims to promote the conservation and sustainable use of banana genetic resources while ensuring the equitable sharing of benefits derived from their use. The project works to enhance the capacity of national and regional stakeholders in managing and using banana genetic resources and to develop policies and legal frameworks to support ABS.

These initiatives involve collaboration between various stakeholders, including governments, international organizations, research institutions, and civil society organizations, and aim to promote sustainable and equitable development of the global banana sector.

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