Employment isn’t the only economic sector with a glass ceiling: consider that market staple, the banana, America’s best-selling fruit. Organic bananas have never sold for higher than 99¢ per pound at Mississippi Market; despite rising costs, we’ve resisted raising our prices on this favorite fruit. After all: the five huge corporations who control global banana prices import and sell their bananas at prices roughly half of the retail price of organic ones. How could higher prices possibly be justified?
Nick Foster-Walkers, produce manager at our Selby store, explains: “The current price structure of purchasing bananas is not a sustainable system. By choosing to partner with Equal Exchange and the Mississippi Market with the purchase Fair Trade bananas, you are having a direct impact on the social and economic conditions of the growers.”
Equal Exchange, an employee-owned cooperative importing fair-trade foods into the US market, is our partner in providing bananas to Mississippi Market shoppers. Since 1986, this cooperative has sought “to build long-term trade partnerships that are economically just and environmentally sound, to foster mutually beneficial relationships between farmers and consumers, and to demonstrate, through our success, the contribution of worker co-operatives and Fair Trade to a more equitable, democratic and sustainable world.”
Equal Exchange began its work by importing Nicaraguan coffee. Today, Equal Exchange also imports bananas from banana farmers of the El Guabo co-op in Ecuador and CEPIBO co-op in Peru. By banding together to produce and sell their fruit to Equal Exchange, these small farmers can accomplish things none of them could alone:
• buy and build collectively Thanks to their collective power, farmers can buy trucks, build warehouses and processing plants, and become partners in a thriving collective business that changes their lives. They can also afford to train members to improve their crops’ quality and productivity.
• achieve organic certification and access to global markets Even many small Minnesota farmers will tell you that organic certification is too expensive for them; imagine trying to afford it on earnings of roughly $500 a year. Cost-sharing makes the $2,000-plus organic certification possible for Latin American farmers, and such certification leads to more sales and higher incomes.
• alter the distribution of local power Traditionally, small farmers have had little power in countries where big landowners call the shots. By banding together to build larger and more successful businesses than they had as individuals, co-op members have been able to challenge the powers-that-be and demand changes in their communities.
The costs of conventional banana farming are mostly externalized: pollution with pesticides, degradation of waters, sickness of workers, rural poverty. By choosing Equal Exchange’s fair-trade bananas, you are voting with your dollars for a different vision of tropical farming: one that pays farmers a livable wage, helps them grow their businesses and steward their land, and recognizes that higher prices in the market mean less poverty for the people who grow the fruit.
Now it’s time to face the fact that banana prices, like almost everything else, are subject to global, rather than merely national, market forces. As a result, right here on the ground in Saint Paul, Mississippi Market must raise our price for bananas. The perfect storm has arrived, and the 99¢ per pound banana will be washed away by it. We hope you agree with us that the small increase in price is worth what it provides through fair trade: better lives for banana farmers, cleaner water, cleaner air, and healthier soil.