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Friday, 19 February 2010 12:13

Banana Producers Turn To Regional Markets

By Salif D. Cheickna in Abidjan

Cote d'Ivoire, Feb 18 (IPS) - Twelve thousand people working on Côte d'Ivoire's banana plantations face uncertainty as the European Union begins implementing a new agreement governing tariffs on bananas.


An agreement finalised in mid-December aims to comply with regulations governing non-discrimination between member states of the World Trade Organisation. The agreement provides for lower European tariffs on bananas from Latin America. The tariffs will drop from the present 176 euros per tonne to 114 euros per tonne by 2017.


This will make bananas from Latin American producers - mostly grown and exported by powerful multinationals like Dole and Chiquita - more competitive against bananase from growers in African, Caribbean and Pacific countries.


Mathias N'Goan Aka, president of the country's association of banana producers, expects banana exports - presently 230,000 tonnes a year - to fall by 14 percent.


But on the large banana plantations around Azaguié, in southern Côte d'Ivoire, role players in the banana sector are not waiting with their arms crossed to see what happens next.


Doulaye Savadogo, who cultivates a hectare of bananas, argues that given the situation, one must turn to the domestic and sub-regional markets. "In Burkina Faso where I’m from, the banana is a very popular commodity. It has even become one of the staples," he says.


Banana production is a matter of "big money," Savadogo tells IPS. "That is why there aren’t many of us. Even here, you realise that it is Westerners who have the largest plantations. To grow bananas on one hectare takes about 15 million CFA francs (some $33,300)," he says.


At the Gouro Adjamé market in Abidjan, women are unloading 10 tonnes of bananas from a truck.


Isabelle Lou Kouhelou specialises in the banana trade in this market, which serves Côte d'Ivoire's commercial capital. Local consumption of bananas is high, she tells IPS.


She believes that Côte d'Ivoire could sell its produce to the Sahel countries of West Africa, although she has concerns about how the fruit would be kept fresh.


With her limited experience selling in Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal and Niger, Lou Kouhelou believes that Ivorian bananas could sell better than what's already available there and be able to compete in the new market.


She is able to buy a bunch of 20 bananas for 300 FCFA (about $0.07) in Soubré in the south-west, and resell at 2,000 FCFA (about $4.50) in the inland countries far to the north.


But she laments the difficulties of road and rail transport in the region. She says government intervention will be necessary to support an initiative to conquer the sub-regional market.


Analysts are concerned by the oversupply of bananas on the world market, fearing that the competition may be hard on African producers, less organised than their counterparts in Latin America.


Guy Alain Gauze, the Ivorian WTO representative at a symposium on the industry in Grand Bassam in October 2009, has called for the cration of a research centre to study the evolving European market.


This research centre, according to Gauze, would eventually enable the action needed to safeguard the exports of ACP countries.


Further, the symposium joined producers and exporters in suggesting restructuring the whole production chain for fruit, of which banana is the chief export in Côte d'Ivoire.


Participants also stressed the need to offset the social costs of adapting to new conditions of access to the European market, and the establishment of a strategy of product diversification in the sector.


"We need solid policy around the restructuring of fruit industries, which are reliant on the strengthening of productive capacity and improved quality - in line with the standards and regulations of the international market - as well as more extensive agricultural research and the promotion of domestic, sub-regional and regional consumption," advocates Gauze.


He also suggests "the diversification of export markets with a focus on African markets, especially those of oil-rich North Africa, and the creation of added value through training by small and medium-scale industrial concerns."



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