WhoWhatWear has deemed 2018 the year of the banana, and not just in terms of what we eat (although, over 100 billion bananas are consumed each year worldwide!). If it's the year of the banana, then it's also a good year to figure out how those yellow fruits go from seed to the slices in your bowl of oatmeal.
As a consumer, you generally purchase your goods at the very end of the supply chain. For those unfamiliar, the idea is pretty simple: a supply chain is the network of people, places, and things that are linked together to bring a good or service to a consumer. Simple on paper maybe, but a little bit more complicated in practice. The supply chain typically starts at a raw material (like cotton or a banana), then to a producer or factory, next to a distribution center, and finally to the retailer from whom you purchase your stuff. All producers have slightly different supply chains based on small tweaks made here and there to stay competitive in the market, but in the simplest of terms, the supply chain is logistics + procurement + inventory management.
SUPPLY + TRANSPORTATION
Step #1 of the banana supply chain is the raw input: the growth and extraction of the banana crop. Unless you're living in Ecuador or Guatemala, you probably aren't too close to a significant banana crop. Therefore, your banana's supply chain begins long before and miles away from where it will reach you. This first step includes both the production and packing of our little yellow friends, the Cavendish Bananas.
It takes a banana plant about 9 months of growth to be ready for harvest. Bananas are picked when they're green so that they ripen en route to you (we know, so cool), and, because consumers prefer a perfect yellow peel, they must be handled with care throughout the entire production process. Even with this precise process, bananas still have a very low carbon footprint (a carbon footprint is our most educated guess as to the full climate change impact of an activity).
But despite their low carbon footprint, bananas do have a high number of touchpoints with people and machines throughout their supply chain. Once you have a banana supply, you need to consider the logistics of getting the fruits from point A to point B. The banana stock is cut, transported to a packing factory (often via mule), cleaned, and packed for safe and bruise-free transportation. Dole workers can move plants from the tree, to package, to pallet, in just two or three hours. To move these bananas, the next steps on the supply chain revolve around the truck and maritime transport as well as refrigeration. Bananas need to stay cool to slow the ripening process. About 100 million bananas are shipped from the Philippines to Japan each month by boat. The bananas have to be stored properly en route and then prepared for the final step, meeting the consumer.
At the final leg of the journey, the banana finally comes to rest in the fruit stand at a retailer, like your local co-op or farm stand or grocery store. These bananas will have been unpacked, shelved, and inspected one last time before you take a bunch home, slice them up, and plop them into your oatmeal or smoothie. Bananas can also be consumed as ready-to-wear fashion and, maybe in the future, even as a textile. (There is already a Cameroonian artist thinking about a future of alternative biological fabrics, like the banana peel, for everyday consumption of a different kind).
Regardless of whether you're eating your bananas, drinking a banana smoothie, or wearing a banana-inspired pair of earrings, your purchases come from somewhere and have to navigate a sometimes lengthy supply chain to get to you. One crucial thing to keep in mind when you're buying is that by opting for Fair Trade, you are supporting a living wage for farmworkers, and investing in a community rather than merely another corporation. Fair Trade goods (like bananas) help alleviate poverty and support sustainability goals.
By buying Fair Trade you are being a more thoughtful consumer; a fact that can make a real difference at every step of the supply chain.