- With lessening access to European markets threatening to cost African banana farmers millions of dollars in lost exports, an international assembly of banana experts meeting in Kenya today adviced African growers to hasten to take advantage of various local and regional opportunities for expanding production and boosting incomes.
According to statement released by Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIARF) yesterday, for decades income potential of many large-scale African banana farmers has been tied to exports to European Union (EU), where African farmers, along with growers in Caribbean and Pacific have enjoyed tariff-free access.
Statement however shows that a relentless push from big producers in Latin America to "level playing field", a pitched battle often referred to as "Banana Wars," is finally paying out.
It states that talks are likely to resume this fall between EU and Ecuador, Latin America's biggest banana exporter, after two nearly came to terms this summer.
"If, as expected, a deal is reached, consensus view is that African farmers in places like Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana would quickly lose a sizeable chunk of their already meager four percent share of what is now a US$4 billion market," it says.
Thomas DuBois, a researcher at African based IITA, which is supported by Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), noted that, "current (European) trade policy is clearly in favour of ACP countries, but this is likely to change. So, Africa must prepare itself to remain competitive."
Report further shows that IITA organised this first-ever pan-African conference in partnership with Bioversity International, Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), International Society for Horticultural Science (ISHS) and Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute (KARI).
Mr Beed said that rather than focus on potential losses in Europe, Africa's mostly small-scale banana farmers, who produce a third of world's bananas and plantains, should look to untapped potential of local and regional demand for bananas and banana products.
Report states that already, more than 90 percent of Africa's crop is consumed on continent, where in countries like Uganda it is main dietary staple, adding that regional demand, particularly in rapidly growing urban centers, is increasing.
Sidi Sanyang of Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) said, "future of banana in Africa should move towards strengthening local and regional markets and market linkages that can feed increasing urban populations, as well as taking advantage of value addition through processing for products like banana chips, beer, fried snacks, flour, fibre, and other consumer goods."
Mr Sanyang added that, "this will not happen without more intensive and deliberate efforts towards developing marketing strategies that will facilitate consumption of these products."
For example, experts at conference pointed to efforts in Kenya, where banana growers have doubled and even tripled their incomes through relatively simple steps, like organizing growers groups and adopting product standards that allowed them to sell directly to wholesalers.
In Uganda alone, it is said there are more than 200 processed banana products, yet limited investment in facilities and transportation has left them largely unavailable beyond local markets. That means farmers depend almost entirely on sales of fresh, perishable fruit for income.
"Processed food market is quite small and tends to be focused on middle income consumers who can afford to buy packaged foods from grocery stores, street vendors and kiosks in urban areas," said Richard Markham of Bioversity International.
He added that, "for banana, big problem is perishability. Small-scale farmers could use post-harvest processing to develop products like flour or other food ingredients that could be stored for longer periods, particularly during times of seasonal glut, when prices are low."
Director general of IITA, Hartmann said, "In Africa alone, over 100 million people depend on banana as a staple of their diet."
Mr Hartmann added, "trade is important but we must be sure to also look at impacts of trade on food security."
According to report, Sub-Saharan Africa produces 30 million tons of bananas, which provide food for about 100 million people and account for 35 percent of global banana and plantain production.
Uganda alone produces 10 million tonnes of banana annually, with an estimated value of US$1.7 billion, making it world's second largest banana producer after India.
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