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Bananas are believed to be the first cultivated fruit and are currently the world’s most consumed and exported fruit. Along with plantains, they are the fourth most important staple crop globally, helping to maintain food and nutritional security for 400 million people in producing countries.
But banana supply chains are very vulnerable to disruptions in the global economy, such as those caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Russia-Ukraine conflict, and variations in fossil fuel prices. Producers also face increasing environmental challenges due to climate change. What’s more, very little genetic diversity on banana plantations puts them at particular risk of pests and diseases, which can be exacerbated during extreme weather. For example, Tropical Race 4 is a deadly fungus found in soils that poses a threat to banana plantations and risks wiping out entire banana varieties.
Our research shows that banana producers are most affected by market disruptions. Recent crises have led to higher costs across all inputs in the banana supply chain, putting banana producers under increasing financial pressure.
However, voluntary sustainability standards (VSSs) such as GlobalG.A.P., the Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade International, and Organic can help build producers’ resilience to such challenges in the banana sector. They are adopting measures to ensure banana farmers and workers are better remunerated, such as by setting minimum prices, paying premiums to cover the costs of sustainable production, and offering base wages to farmers. They are also supporting them in improving their resilience to climate change—for example, by requiring farmers to adopt soil preservation measures to maintain soil moisture and fertility, which can help the soil cope with periods of drought.
But responsibility for picking up the costs of more sustainable growing practices must be shared across industry actors at all levels of the banana supply chain. For example, retailers can play their part by committing to paying fairer prices for bananas and establishing long-term partnerships with producers. Governments can help improve producers’ knowledge of—and access to—sustainable growing practices and market prices. And regional networks and associations, such as worker unions, can advocate for higher prices for producers.
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