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Poorest people 'collateral damage' in supermarkets' banana price wars

More than 5 billion of them are eaten in the UK every year, but an “aggressive” price war among the country’s supermarkets could lead to a shortage of bananas in the near future.

The Fairtrade Foundation, a charity that aims to protect the working rights and conditions of farmers in the developing world, has called on the government to intervene in supermarket price-cutting, which has led the price of bananas to fall by nearly half in the last 10 years.

The campaign, called Make Bananas Fair, was launched as the foundation revealed that sales of fair trade products in the UK had risen by 14 per cent in the last year to £1.78 billion.

But these impressive figures have been overshadowed by the price war in banana sales between supermarkets, which could send many producers out of business, leading to a shortfall in supplies of the fruit.

Shoppers typically pay just 11p for a loose banana, compared with around 18p a decade ago. This is despite the cost of producing bananas doubling over the same period.

Farmers’ living costs have risen even more sharply, with the cost of living in the Dominican Republic, a Caribbean nation, increasing by 350 per cent in 10 years.

Michael Gidney, chief executive of the Fairtrade Foundation, believes that price-cutting in the UK could result in a large number of farmers in places such as the Dominican Republic, Colombia and Ecuador going out of business.

“Small farmers and plantation workers are the collateral damage in supermarket price wars,” Mr Gidney said. “The poorest people are bearing the cost of our cheap bananas, and they have to work harder and harder as what they earn is worth less and less in their communities.

“As a result, a product that is worth billions of pounds in global trade relies on poverty-level income for the people who grow it.”

The foundation report claims that bananas have become the “fourth most important food group” in the world, as well as one of the most valuable agricultural commodities in global trade.

The supermarkets that scored best in their pricing were The Cooperative, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose. But Mr Gidney said that none of the UK’s supermarkets could “afford to be complacent”.

A spokesperson for Sainsbury’s said it “ensured a fair deal” for its producers. Judith Batchelar, a director at the supermarket, said: “As the first major supermarket to switch to selling only fair trade bananas in 2007, and as the largest retailer of fair trade products in the world, we ensure a fair deal for tens of thousands of producers and their communities.

“Not all supermarkets are the same, and everyone who buys a banana from Sainsbury’s knows the grower is getting a fair price, as set by Fairtrade, and a Fairtrade premium goes to their community.”

Read about Skelton School's Super 'Go for Fair Bananas' Campaign

Questions for debate and discussion

  1. What do we mean by “Fairtrade"?
  2. In your opinion, whose responsibility is it to ensure that producers are paid a fair price?
  3. How can we help, as individuals?
  4. Can you name any other products that are typically associated with Fairtrade?

Related resources

Fairtrade: From roots to fruits
This engaging cross-curricular lesson from Kidogo Resources looks at Fairtrade alongside the lifecycles of various plants.

Baked bananas recipe
Introduce your class to a delicious banana recipe with this hands-on activity brought to you by Foodafactoflife.

Making a world of difference
Show your class the positive impact that Fairtrade is having all over the world with these clear PowerPoint presentations from Traidcraft Schools.

Fairtrade assembly
This assembly has been planned by Christian Aid to help you to convey the importance of Fairtrade in the food market.

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