Category Archives: Blog

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BANANA SPLIT: An interview with Shebafilms

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We spoke to husband & wife team Ron Harpelle and Kelly Saxberg of Shebafilms about their 2002 film, Banana Split, which profiles the rise and practices of the United Fruit Company / Chiquita – as well as asking Canadians:  do you know where your bananas come from?  The Thunder Bay natives give a uniquely Canadian twist to the film, with the opening shots juxtaposing a Canadian snowstorm with a Honduran banana plantation.  So, we asked them…

How did you get interested in bananas?

Ron:  I’m a Professor in the History Department at Lakehead University, and was studying the migration of West Indian workers to Central America.  I had spent time in Costa Rica on my research, and witnessed the effects of the banana industry first-hand.  In 1998, I got a grant from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) to put together a historical timeline about labour plantations in Honduras so…

Kelly:  We packed the kids in the backseat, and drove down to Honduras (from Thunder Bay) in October 1999.  It took them awhile to ever trust us before another car trip…  I’m a filmmaker, so we worked well as a team, with Ron providing the research and me doing the actual filming and editing work.

Banana Split came out in 2002.  What’s life like for those Chiquita workers now?

As we show in the film, Hurricane Mitch had a big impact on Chiquita’s workers in Honduras.  Basically, 25 years of improvement in labour relations were set to zero by Chiquita implementing new practices which both increased individual workload and isolated workers from one another. Instead of being responsible for one specific job on the plantation, workers are now each responsible for all jobs on a given plot of land. This created an environment where workers are more concerned about others not pulling their weight and it has pitted them against one another. So even though there have been production efficiencies in their new Honduran plantations, there are no benefits shared with the marginalised people on the ground, and it has made it more difficult for them to organize as they could have in the past. The Just-in-time production also involved more women, but fewer people overall.

Chiquita (and other larger companies), also started shifting part of their burden to independent producers by not owning a portion of their land. Small producers have become a safety valve for them as they now only buy bananas from them as needed. It provides companies the opportunity to turn off that tap when they have a surplus of bananas, and passes all the risk onto small producers.

In the Costa Rican plantation regions life is better in some ways. People now have access to the internet and are more aware of what’s going on in the world, and their rights. But there are still many of the same struggles: inadequate housing and low wages. Companies are still brutal and Chiquita continues to run company towns. Even though things are more modern, all the struggles and chemicals etc., continue to exist. Despite having signs up to warn people of chemicals being used, they are still spraying overhead while workers are present and clusters of houses remain right on the plantations.

How did Chiquita or Mel-o-Ripe react to the film?  How did the rest of the world react?

We notified Chiquita and the Pitoscia family that the film was out, but heard nothing back from them, and we gather that Mel-o-Ripe no longer exists.  As for the rest of the world:  we’ve made a lot of films together over the last 20 years, but Banana Split is still our “best seller”.  We toured it across Europe, it won a couple prizes, and has been honoured in many film fests world wide.  Through help from CIDA, we also helped develop bilingual curriculum material (still available here (EN) and here (FR)) which was widely used in high schools across Ontario.

Do you hold out hope for the banana industry?

We did a film called Health for Life in 2008 about Dr. Palmira Ventocia, a Peruvian scientist at the University of Peru in Lima. She developed research with coconuts to kill the larvae of mosquitos, and it became a community project to get rid of malaria, engaging the youth of the community to become leaders in malaria prevention. We believe education is the best hope for the future and getting the kids involved is what will make a difference. If they are educated, they will become adults that make changes in their communities.

In northern Peru, where these teachings about malaria avoidance were strong, a generation of children were oriented towards thinking scientifically about their environment.  People were more open to organic production of bananas (and other products) because of the education they received on malaria prevention, and benefits of not putting chemicals into their food, and on their skin (Pesticides and DDT alike). There are no conventional bananas in Peru – only organic – a choice that protects both workers and their land.


What does Equifruit think?

We like to focus on Fairtrade for many reasons. Here are some of the ways we differentiate from the practices of large, established banana companies, as described above:

-Long-term contracts: In Fairtrade, we engage in long-term contracts with our producers so they are not susceptible to larger companies using them as a ‘safety valve.’ They know they will have a consistent income which allows the small producers we work with to have the security to get loans and make investments in their houses, farms and communities.

-The ability to organize: Workers on Fairtrade-certified farms have the right to unionize. Fairtrade also requires democratic decision-making, annual meetings, and encourages working co-operatively. Equifruit currently only buys from small-farmer co-operatives where they can engage in meaningful discussions about their working conditions, production issues, and importantly, create relationships with one another.

-Restricted use of pesticides, even with conventional bananas: To date, Equifruit has imported solely organic bananas, but we have just started serving the university market with conventional (non-organic) Fairtrade bananas. What is great about Fairtrade conventional is that despite not being certified organic, there are still strict regulations about the use of pesticides on plantations. There is a very restricted list of allowed chemicals, and worker health and safety are very carefully protected and monitored in their application.  Safe working conditions are present for all Fairtrade products whether fruit is organic or not.


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Hats off for our Campus Bananas!

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This week marks two big “firsts” for Equifruit:  the introduction of Fairtrade bananas into Canada, and the sale of these bananas to an institutional customer.  Concordia University became Canada’s 17th Fairtrade Campus back in August 2016 with commitments on Fairtrade coffee, tea and chocolate across campus – but through its campus food service provider, Aramark, Concordia has upped its commitment to ethical purchasing and earned the title of “First Campus in Canada to go Fairtrade on Bananas”.   Aramark’s National Manager of Sustainability Michael Yarymowich was on hand for the festivities at Concordia this week so we asked him…

1. How many campus food services does Aramark manage in Canada? What are your customers looking for when they say “sustainability”?

The level of awareness surrounding food systems and responsible sourcing has never been higher on Canadian campuses.  There are many areas of focus including fair trade, local food procurement, the health of the oceans and physical environment, waste management, animal welfare and more.

Along with the increasing demand for a wide variety of products there is a growing desire to ensure that none of the participants in what has become a truly global marketplace for food find themselves marginalized, making the concept of Fair Trade one of the fastest growing consumer sustainability movements we encounter.

Fairtrade Canada and distribution partners such as Equifruit are helping us find a solution to this demand by encouraging improvements at every level of the supply chain, giving us the tools to make positive change and an effective communication platform to educate an even greater segment of the population.

2. What does the Fairtrade Campus designation mean to Aramark?

For many, going to university means making some important life decisions for the first time, including choosing which foods to purchase.  With this new responsibility students come to realize very quickly that there are more factors to be considered than just what they may be hungry for at the moment – factors such as global economy and social impact.  The Fairtrade mark can be a very useful tool to help navigate these other factors, and Aramark is proud to align with its message as a way of enabling a new generation of citizens to make better choices and bring about positive change. It is an important component of our daily mission to enrich and nourish lives in every community in which we do business.

3. Why bananas? Are there other food categories you’re looking to convert to Fairtrade?

As one of the more popular fruits on campus, bananas make sense as a starting point so that we can maximize the positive impact of this new purchasing practice. As awareness continues to grow and demand for a greater number of Fairtrade certified options with it, we expect to make more options available.

Bananas also have a certain symbolic value – like coffee, tea and cocoa, they are easily recognized by many people as something grown in less economically advantaged regions – and as nature’s ultimate hand-held snack they serve as a great vehicle to help spread the word!

4. Concordia has only just been designated – and has already reached a leadership position among Fairtrade campuses. Do you hear buzz elsewhere in your network?

There is a lot of passion out there for this cause and I think it’s safe to say that when an institution takes a courageous step forward such as this, others pay attention. I would encourage any campus to follow Concordia’s lead and I fully expect that this is exactly what will happen in the near future.

5. We see you got into the spirit of things at Concordia so… fess up: was “banana selfie” on your bucket list?  Any plans to borrow Equifruit’s banana costumes in the future?

It may sound silly, but I consider it an honour to be asked to wear the Banana Suit – to me it represents an association with a very worthy cause!  And as more of our campus partners achieve their Fairtrade Campus designations, I expect to see many more opportunities to steal the peel for a selfie in some of those new locations!  Banana Tour 2017 anyone?


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How to make banana SUPERFOOD: composting on a Peruvian banana plantation

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In honour of Earth Day, Equifruit is burying itself in the glamorous world of… compost. And yes! Compost can be a pretty exciting topic when you’re as pumped on sustainable agriculture as we are. And yes! We’re ready for the Internet to break when this post goes viral, since we know we’re not alone…

Appbosa, the cooperative we work with in Peru, has a well-developed centralized composting programme. We caught up with Marcia Herrero Reto, APPBOSA’s Director of Certification & Quality, to help us dig deeper. She was kind enough to answer our…

5 Questions about banana plant composting!


1. When did the composting program start? Is the project funded in any way through the Fairtrade social premium?

The compost program started in approximately 2006. At the beginning it started with the help of the social premium, but now it is self-sustainable.

2. Can you describe the composting process?

Appbosa’s field workers and packers collect discarded fruit and banana plant stems after the harvesting process, and bring them to the compost area close to the cooperative’s central offices. A team of workers then chops and mulches them using a mulching machine. This “fluffy” plant mix is then combined with fresh cattle, goat and sheep manure which the cooperative buys from local livestock farmers.

This mixed product is spread onto blankets, in beds shaped like pyramids 7 metres long, 1.5 metres wide and 1 metre high. The compost needs to maintain a certain level of humidity and its temperature is monitored daily: under the hot Peruvian sun, it can surpass 55 degrees Celsius! The compost needs to be turned periodically, usually about 5 times over its production. When the compost is ready, after nearly 2 months, it then gets sifted, bagged and prepared for distribution.

3. How many people are employed in this project?

The preparation of the compost is carried out the entire year and there are 4 people who work on this program. They are all employees of the central Appbosa cooperative.

4. Does this amount of compost meet the cooperative’s needs or do you need to buy additional compost from other suppliers?

The preparation of the compost is constant and we supply all of the producers. In some cases, we sell it, but only to our own partners.

5. How is the compost distributed within the cooperative?

We have defined a process for buying the compost. Each producer deducts 2 soles (approx. 75¢ Canadian) for each box of bananas they produce for sale by the cooperative. It is like a savings program, and every 3 months we evaluate how much each producer has saved. We designate a fixed amount of compost per hectare, and from the amount that is saved, the producers receive a discount of 10 soles for each bag of compost. The balance of the savings then goes to the producer to acquire additional fertilizer for missing nutrients for his crop, such as potassium, Sulpomag (organic mix of sulphur, potassium and magnesium) and rock phosphate.

Do you have any more questions for Marci?  If so, jot them down below in the Comments section, and we’ll get back to you with her answers.  And in the meantime, the whole Equifruit team wishes you a Happy Earth Day!


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Ruth Walton’s Fairtrade Banana Fritters

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This tasty recipe comes from Ruth Walton’s book, Juliana’s Bananas (New Internationalist, 2014).  Read more about her book on our blog, or order one here!

Ruth Walton Banana Fritters Recipe


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5 Questions about Juliana’s Bananas

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Ruth Walton is a British author and illustrator of educational books for primary children. She has written and illustrated seven books including the Let’s Find Out series. Through quirky illustrations and lively text, these books help children to find out about the world around them and beyond. She is particularly interested in helping children to learn about ethical issues in food and manufacturing.

Today, in honour of International Children’s Book Day, we’ve got the spotlight on Ruth Walton’s most recent book, Juliana’s Bananas (New Internationalist, 2014), a superb resource which introduces us to the people who grow our bananas and helps children understand the challenges of getting this delicious fruit to your local grocery store. Ruth agreed to answer our…

5 Questions about Juliana’s Bananas:


1. How did you get interested in bananas?

I’ve always loved eating bananas but had never even seen one growing so I decided to go on a fact finding adventure! After learning more about the banana industry I decided to make a book which helps children understand how eating Fairtrade bananas can help families in other parts of the world.

2. Tell us about the producers you met. Is there a real life Juliana? What was her biggest challenge?

I was lucky enough to visit St Vincent, St Lucia, and Dominica in the Windward Islands, where I met lots of farmers. The real life Juliana who inspired the story works very hard every day to keep her fruit healthy, but her livelihood is always under threat as it is very hard for individual farms and small producers to meet the strict standards set by supermarkets and consumers. Hurricanes and plant diseases also cause terrible problems for the farmers over there.

3. Your story includes Juliana’s children, Bertha and Billy. What’s their life like? What impact do you think the Fairtrade system has on children?

On my travels I saw many great projects which had been funded by Fairtrade social premium money, including school buses, football fields, basketball courts, science equipment and computer rooms for schools. Buying Fairtrade helps to fund facilities which improve the lives of children and whole communities in lots of different ways.

4. Can you describe the collage technique you use so beautifully in the book?

I did the illustrations in Juliana’s Bananas using a mixture of techniques. I make hand-cut collages using painted paper and then scan them in to the computer and layer them up using parts of photographs. I add finer details with a calligraphic pen.

5. What’s your favourite banana treat?

Banana fritters are delicious! You can find them on page 25 of Juliana’s Bananas, but in case you can’t wait until you’ve got a copy, here is the recipe…


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We are Fruit People

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Bananas are fun. There is an endless stream of jokes and songs and stories related to bananas, and trust us, we’ve heard ‘em all. Some are clean, some are lewd, some are quite aPEELing! (groan…) Sometimes, all we have to do is identify ourselves as “the banana ladies” and people start laughing. And just that is worth getting up for in the morning!

But there’s more than just the humour that keeps us working at Equifruit. We love the fruit, but we’re especially keen on fruit people. Fair trade is all about making sure that the people at the first stop on our supply chain are treated well: that they’re paid fairly, that they work in safe conditions, and that their children don’t labour next to them but go to school. We work directly with cooperatives of small producers, and our job is to represent them here in Canada, to tell their stories and sell their fruit. For every container we import, we get a packing list which details the producers who have contributed to this container. This is in part for traceability – but it also reminds us that there are real people behind this fruit we consume, real people with real lives and families, with their problems and joys, just like us.

So… let’s meet one of our producers. The man on our blog graphic is Victor Marquez, a small producer member of our Ecuadorian partners, El Guabo. He and two of his cousins work 5 hectares of land near Santa Rosa (El Oro, in southern Ecuador) which Victor inherited from his father. He’s 45 now – he’s been doing this since he was 15, and before the notion that Fairtrade was possible in their community. They have a team of workers who help them on packing days: up to five more pairs of hands are needed to get fruit cut and packed and loaded to El Guabo’s central departure point.

Victor is married with 3 children, two boys aged 6 and 13, and an 18-year-old daughter who’s the real story. Let’s rewind to 1997, around the time of her birth: El Guabo is first formed as a cooperative to sell bananas to the export market through the Fairtrade system. Victor’s daughter is now studying at the Metropolitan University in Machala, an opportunity which would have been unthinkable for her own parents, thanks in part to the fair trade system’s ban on child labour and emphasis on supporting education.  Fair trade has changed this family.

At almost every event where people talk about or promote fair trade, there’s some brave soul walking around in a banana costume making people laugh. People love the banana costume – but sometimes we’re asked: “Why are we dressing up as bananas?”

Our answer? Because behind every banana we eat, there’s a person working hard, seeking better opportunities for their kids and their communities. From Victor’s family farm to our family’s table, we know where our fruit comes from and the impact that eating the humble banana has on a community half way round the world. Now that’s Fruit for Thought! We look forward to introducing you to more of these people. And in the meantime… let’s have a little fun!


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Cheer up, Buttercup! These are Fairtrade!

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Fairtrade Banana Peanut Buttercups


Ingredients:IMG_5026

  • 1 cup Fairtrade dark chocolate chips (or Fairtrade bar, cut up into pieces)
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons milk (regular or almond is best)
  • 1 Fairtrade organic Equifruit banana, peeled and sliced into equal rounds (for mini cups cut each round in half)
  • 1/3 cup peanut butter (crunchy or smooth, your choice!)
  • 1 tablespoon Fairtrade coconut oil, (unrefined extra-virgin preferred)
  • 12 regular baking cups (or 24 mini’s)

Preparation:

  1. Heat the chocolate chips, milk and vanilla on low in a sauce pan (or microwave for any hard-working, time-pressed, mamas and papas out there!) Stir until chocolate is smooth and creamy. Tip: be careful not to burn! As the chips are covered in liquid, they’ll melt fast.
  2. Add a generous tablespoon of chocolate to each baking cup (there should be some left over).
  3. Place one piece of Fairtrade banana on top and press gently to keep it in place.
  4. Melt the coconut oil and mix together with the peanut butter. If the peanut butter is hard, heat it up to soften it a bit and continue mixing.
  5. Add a tablespoon of peanut butter mixture to each baking cup.
  6. Add remaining chocolate onto a final layer of each cup.
  7. Place in the freezer, and they will be ready to consume after about an hour!

Serve immediately after removing them from the freezer. They’re delicious when bananas are still frozen, like a mini scoop of ice cream!

IMG_5048


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