Fairtrade BananasBananas

Case Study: The Windward Islands Farmers Association (WINFA)

 

 


Background to WINFA

The Windward Islands are located in the Lesser Antilles group of islands in the in the Eastern Caribbean. They are made up of four independent nation states: St Lucia, St Vincent & the Grenadines, Grenada, and Dominica, all former British colonies.

The Windward Islands Farmers Association (WINFA) was established in 1982 to promote the social and economic welfare of small-scale farmers. WINFA advocates on behalf of farmers who are struggling to make a living from bananas and other agricultural products due to the continually decreasing returns for their produce. Sustaining the income and livelihood of banana farmers and the banana industry has been a particular focus since 1987 because of the crisis being faced by the industry (see Challengesbelow). WINFA's main activities are advocacy and lobbying; networking; training and exchange; promotion of diversification: Fairtrade, organic production, and agro-processing.

WINFA and Fairtrade

WINFA started to promote Fairtrade in the early 1990s, holding discussions with farmers and other stakeholders in the industry. In the late 1990s WINFA began working with Fairtrade Labelling Organisations International (FLO) to facilitate the setting up of a Fairtrade structure on the islands. WINFA became a registered Fairtrade banana producer and started to ship Fairtrade bananas in July 2000. WINFA set up the WINFA Fairtrade Unit to co-ordinate Fairtrade activities, including the registration and education of farmers, implementation of criteria, internal control, and the dissemination of information among its members.

In order to qualify for Fairtrade registration, the banana farmers had to be organised into democratic organisations (co-operatives). It was necessary to set up a new structure to guarantee transparency and participation in the decision-making process. The individual Fairtrade farmers are organised into Fairtrade Groups in their local areas. The local groups enable farming communities to support each other and improve their productivity and environmental management etc.

Fairtrade farmers elect the board members of their local Fairtrade Groups and also elect members of the National Fairtrade Committees, which oversee the development of Fairtrade and the distribution of the Fairtrade premium (see Fairtrade Premium below). All bananas are sold directly to WIBDECO, the exporting organisation. WINFA is not involved in the supply chain of the bananas (see Export History below).

Structure and Production

  • WINFA Fairtrade Unit is comprised of 535 farmers from 18 groups (approx. 11% of the remaining 5,000 banana farmers in the Windward Islands); around 29% are female (July 2002). The average farm size is 3.75 acres or 1.5 hectares.
  • WINFA members employ 490 permanent workers (130 of which are female), and 1,186 temporary workers (504 female) who are normally employed on harvest days.
  • WINFA Fairtrade bananas are exported by WIBDECO, distributed by Windwards Bananas, Fyffes, SH Pratt, Del Monte and JP Fruits, and are available at Co-op, Waitrose and Tesco stores.
  • Farmers receive US$5.75 per 18.14kg box for Fairtrade bananas. They receive approximately US$1.00 per box less when selling to the conventional market, depending on market conditions.
  • WINFA receives an additional Fairtrade premium of US$1.75 per box to be invested in agreed business, social and environmental projects.
  • WINFA plans to increase its presence in Fairtrade markets. It is currently negotiating with FLO to be registered as a supplier of new Fairtrade tropical fresh produce such as mangoes, limes and passion fruit.

Fairtrade Bananas

The first consignment of Fairtrade bananas from the Windward Islands arrived in the UK in July 2000. The following year WINFA shipped 4,734 tonnes to the UK and by the end of 2002 was shipping 90 tonnes each week. A small amount is also destined for the Republic of Ireland.

By June 2003, weekly volumes of Fairtrade labelled bananas from the four Windward Islands had increased to around 250 tonnes (13,000 tonnes a year):
Dominica - 7,500 boxes
St Lucia - 3,300
St Vincent - 3,000
Grenada - 150 (fortnightly)
This represents around 20% of the total 68,000 tonnes of bananas exported by the four islands.

Internationally, bananas account for 60% of all Fairtrade product sales by volume. 29,000 tonnes of Fairtrade bananas were shipped to 12 FLO member countries in 2003, produced in Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and Ghana, as well as the Windward Islands.

Fairtrade Premium

The premium of US$1.75 per box is divided as follows:
US$1.00 for social, environmental and business development
US$0.75 for implementation of Fairtrade criteria and business support.

The first project completed in all Fairtrade Groups was the purchase of ‘weed-eaters', trimmers to help farmers control weeds and protect the environment with minimal use of herbicides.

The packing shed improvement scheme ensures clean, dry, hygienic sheds to protect the bananas and ensure compliance with supermarket quality standards.

A revolving loan scheme fund enables farmers to borrow money to invest in their farms, with repayments being made through banana sales.

During 2003, farmers will receive financial support from the premium fund to improve environmental standards by constructing pit toilets on farms and incinerators to dispose of harmful plastic waste more efficiently. The establishment of planted buffer zones will prevent chemical run-off contaminating water courses. This requires an initial investment but will give farmers additional income in the long term because they will plant fruit trees such as mangoes, citrus and coconuts which can be included in the Fairtrade initiative. The farmers will be supported with plants for the buffer zones.

In Dominica and St. Vincent money was paid directly to farmers to support the implementation of Fairtrade standards. Fairtrade farmers have additional labour costs due to different farm practices. In St. Vincent EC$0.80 per box and EC$0.65 in Dominica have been paid directly to farmers.

In addition to direct support of farmers and their farms, a range of social projects has been approved and established:

Dominica:

  • Support of primary school in Castle Bruce with purchase of chairs and tables that enable the school to run to capacity.
  • Computers for primary schools in Calibishie and Carib Territory.
  • Bus shelter in Calibishie.


St. Vincent:

  • Chairs have been purchased for some Fairtrade Groups whose members previously had to stand during meetings. They are also used for other meetings and community events.
  • Social projects in all communities with Fairtrade groups
  • Home economic centre. (The centre will be used for classes in cookery and for catering for events held at the centre)
  • Refurbishment of community centres to enable the community to make greater use of them.
  • Purchase of material to enable knitting classes for young people in rural community centres.
  • Improvement of feeder roads and bridges to give farmers better access to their banana fields.
  • Non-Fairtrade farmers located along these roads will also benefit.
  • Support of three nurseries with equipment enabling children to rest after lunch, also purchase of toys, storybooks and tape recorders. 
  • Construction of two bus stop shelters in an area that previously had none.
  • Support of a rural clinic in the north of the island with the purchase of a nebulizer.
  • Support of a secondary school in Overland with purchase of two computers.

St. Lucia:

  • Refurbishing/construction of agricultural centres in Grace, Mabouya Valley and Vigé/Cacoa.
  • Equipment for science laboratories in two schools.
  • Farm road repairs and improvements.
  • Financial support for cassava processing plant in Vigier.
  • Construction of a community centre in Grace.
  • Support of educational institutions and adult literacy programmes.
  • Scholarships for members' children.
  • NIS (Social security) contribution for one worker per farm.
  • Support of members in case of health problems.


Part of the premium is used for administration, to set up the office of the National Fairtrade Committees in Dominica and St. Lucia, and to reimburse members on the National Committees for their costs. Members of the National Committee in St. Vincent spend one day each week monitoring Fairtrade farms to help individual farmers ensure implementation of Fairtrade standards and to help them to resolve identified weaknesses. The reports of the monitoring visits assist in the overall participation of farmers in the programme.

As WINFA is responsible for the co-ordination, administration and monitoring of the Fairtrade initiative in all four Windward Islands, it has been agreed that US$0.18 per box sold as Fairtrade can be used to finance the work of the Fairtrade Unit. This money is used for staff (co-ordinator, manager and secretary), office costs, travel, and training and education programmes.

A Fairtrade Future

The Fairtrade system is now well established in the Windward Islands. It has the support of all stakeholders and many more farmers want to become involved. The major drawback is that consumer demand for Fairtrade bananas is not yet high enough to match potential production. A quota system has had to be implemented in order to share demand among all registered farmers.

With the development of Fairtrade standards for other fresh tropical produce, it will soon be possible to include products such as mangoes and limes in the Fairtrade initiative. These products will be delivered by groups already involved in Fairtrade or by registered groups currently on the waiting list.

This diversification is of great importance to the Windward Islands - not only to reduce the dependency on bananas and build other stable markets, but most of all it will help to further develop an environmentally friendly sustainable agriculture. Fairtrade in the Windward Islands is seen as a catalyst to conversion to organic production. Diversification of produce will be one part of this process.

In Their Own Words

"You get satisfaction to see the plant grow and to reap the harvest. For over a year I have been selling Fairtrade bananas and selling my full production [quota] to Fairtrade. I would like to see all my bananas being sold as Fairtrade because the extra effort that we have to put into meeting the criteria of Fairtrade bananas is helping to protect the environment. We need greater consumer demand in the UK so we could increase our Fairtrade production."
Denise Sutherland, Fairtrade farmer from Langley Park, St. Vincent.

‘Fairtrade can improve the livelihood of the community... maintain a good relationship between the farmers and workers in terms of transparency and dialogue, and also maintain the long-term fertility of the land.' Wilberforce Emmanuel, WINFA Fairtrade co-ordinator.

‘Fairtrade must be something transparent... not just bringing economic benefits but social benefits, and recognising the injustices of the world trading system.' Renwick Rose, WINFA representative.

"A fair price might mean for the first time farmers can look forward to getting tertiary education. It could make the real difference between having a university education, it could make a real difference to society." Renwick Rose describes what a fair price could mean for producers.

Fairtrade Standards

Fairtrade producers are required to comply with a range of standards and processes that contribute to the economic strengthening of the organisation and to the social and economic development of members and their communities. Requirements include:

  • Producer organisations must be democratic, participatory, non-discriminatory and transparent.
  • Implementation of internationally recognised labour standards, based on ILO conventions.
  • Implementation of environmental standards that protect the environment and minimise use of fertilisers and pesticides.
  • These are ongoing processes that require continuous improvement.

Challenges Facing the Banana Industry

The economies of the Windward Islands are heavily dependent on the banana trade. It provides a direct living for thousands of small-scale producers and accounts for up 50% of total export revenue. But banana exports have fallen from 274,000 tonnes a year in 1992 to 99,000 tonnes in 2003, while their value has shrunk from US$147m to US$45m1.

In the early 1990s the Windward Islands supplied around two-thirds of the UK's bananas. By 2000 this had fallen to19%, its market share gradually being whittled away by imports of cheap ‘dollar bananas' from the US multinational-controlled plantations of Latin America. Prices have been driven down as the small farmers are forced to compete with the low costs on these huge plantations. Costs are kept low in part because production is easier on the level plains than on the steep slopes of the Windward Islands - but also because of low wages, poor employment standards, and intensive production practices resulting in high pesticide use on the plantations.

The falling market price, combined with increasing prices for agricultural inputs such as fertilisers, has hit the islands' banana producers hard and driven many out of the industry altogether. The number of farmers has declined from 27,000 in 1990 to around 5,000 today. Social, economic and political uncertainties are real threats facing the islands, in the form of high unemployment, urban migration and poverty.

The Caribbean export banana industries were developed by the former colonial rulers to supply their home markets. When the UK joined the EU, the islands (along with other former colonies and Commonwealth countries) were given preferential access to the European market through the Lomé Convention. The Windward Islands are part of the Asia, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of countries covered by this agreement and its successor the Cotonou Agreement.

From 1993 the US, with some Latin American exporting countries, lodged a series of complaints with the WTO and its predecessor, GATT, against the EU over the regime it had established to limit banana imports, allocate import licences, and give tariff preferences to ACP countries. Following a series of reforms and counter-complaints an agreement was concluded in 2001 that has, at least in the short term, put an end to the banana wars. Provisions of the agreement include:

  • Removal of specific country quotas for Latin American suppliers and replacement with export licences based on export volumes to the EU between 1994-96
  • Allocation of 17% of the Latin American quota to ‘non-traditional' operators who were not trading in the above period
  • Transfer of 100,000 tonnes of the ACP quota to the Latin American quota in January 2002
  • Continuance of the tariff-free quota for ACP countries, but reduced as above
  • Continuance of tariffs for Latin American suppliers


This transitional regime will be replaced by 1 January 2006. The EU has agreed to remove all quotas and volume restrictions, but tariffs will be retained for Latin American producers. ACP bananas will continue to get duty-free access at least until the transitional phase of the Cotonou Agreement expires in 2008.

Small-scale producers are deeply concerned that tariffs imposed from 2006 will be too low to prevent the market being swamped with cheap ‘dollar bananas'. In this context the success and growth of the Fairtrade market takes on even greater importance for the small-scale banana producers of the Windward Islands.

[ 1 ] Caribbean Banana Exporters Association, www.cbea.org

Export History

With the development of the Windward Islands export banana industry after WWII, the Geest Company was formed as a shipping line between the islands and was granted a monopoly on banana exports from the islands. The island governments formed WIBDECO (Windward Islands Banana Development & Exporting Company) in the 1990s as a holding company for their interests. WIBDECO inherited Geest's right to export all bananas from the islands.

In 1995 Geest sold its banana interests to a joint venture between WIBDECO and Fyffes Ltd. Windwards Bananas (UK), the trading arm of WIBDECO, imports and markets the bananas in the UK, while ripening and distribution is carried out by Fyffes.

WIBDECO is responsible for virtually all of the supply chain from buying from farmers, export, shipping, import, and marketing to UK retailers. The shipping line is still known as Geest but the original Geest company no longer has any connection with the banana company.
Updated: February 2003


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