Wilson Sanchez is an organic banana farmer from Ecuador.
He’s part of a small cooperative of banana producers in the South American nation called El Guabo, who joined together in 1997 with the goal of breaking free from the grip of multinational corporations.
Mr Sanchez, 46, was in Auckland this week as part of the Fairtrade farmer tour – designed to give farmers the opportunity to speak directly to their consumers.
“There are not many options for workers in Ecuador,” he told 3 News through an interpreter. “Working on banana plantations is the only way to survive.”
For the many workers outside of the Fairtrade-certified El Guabo group, that means low wages, long hours, and exposure to harmful chemicals and equipment.
Over 20 percent of New Zealand’s bananas come from Ecuador – the world’s biggest exporter, along with the Philippines.
Kiwis are big banana lovers, eating more bananas per capita than anywhere else. We get through 18kg per person every year, according to Statistics NZ.
The world’s largest fruit importer, Dole – which leads the pack of foreign multinationals sourcing from Ecuador – was forced to scrap its ‘Ethical Care’ stickers this year following an Oxfam report which criticised conditions on its plantations.
The company started branding their bananas with the labels after All Good Fairtrade bananas had hit the supermarkets.
Even though it questioned the validity of the report – which contained allegations of child labour – Dole dropped the stickers and the trademark application.
But Dole remains the most widely eaten brand of banana in New Zealand. All Good Fairtrade bananas have been in supermarkets for three years and now take up about 5 percent of the market, which is worth over $150 million a year in total. Last year, New Zealanders bought 780 tonnes of Fairtrade Certified bananas.
All Good is confident ethical shopping in New Zealand is growing, and aims to double its market share in the next couple of years.
How Fairtrade benefits farmers
Mr Sanchez transformed his farm into an organic, Fairtrade-certified one many years ago. He says while it was “a lot of effort,” it was very worthwhile.
“Others don’t have stability like we do, with no set standards or regulations.”
Fairtrade sets a previously agreed minimum price for the farmers and workers, like Mr Sanchez, who work with them – protecting them from exploitation and fluctuations in world prices.
At 10.37 hectares, Mr Sanchez’s farm in the Ecuadorian mountaintops is small. He says it is “very hard work” competing with larger companies who have expensive technology and can produce up to 10 times the volume he does.
But Fairtrade’s New Zealand CEO Steve Knapp says being part of a cooperative like El Guapo “gives smallholder farmers like Mr Sanchez greater strength when it comes to commercial negotiations and access to market.”
“They have access to stable prices, long term contracts and the additional premium which gets invested in local community products”.
Mr Knapp says having Mr Sanchez visit New Zealand, along with his 18-year-old daughter, is a “great opportunity” for people to learn first-hand how consumer choices can make a positive difference.
Mr Sanchez says Fairtrade is starting to draw the attention of more farmers in Ecuador, and he feels it is important to spread the word. “The more farmers that join in Ecuador, the better”.
Wilson Sanchez will be in New Zealand until the end of November, and will visit Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin and Wellington.
Acknowledgements: 3 News