Leo is Program Advisor sustainable chain development at Vredeseilanden/VECO in Leuven.
Leo, can you tell us briefly about banana production and the market in Senegal? How many farmers are we talking about here and what about the consumption side?
There are about 9,000 banana producers in Senegal. The principal banana-growing area is the Tambacounda region, where Vredeseilanden/VECO is currently working. Total annual production in Senegal is about 30,000 tonnes. On the market side, demand is 45,000 to 50,000 tonnes per year, which means that some imports (15,500 tonnes in 2014) are needed to make up the shortfall. Imported bananas mainly come from the Ivory Coast. Lately the Senegalese authorities have stepped up their efforts to boost banana production in Senegal. I recently attended a conference that was organised by Vredeseilanden/VECO and the National Federation of Banana growers UNAFIBS(Union Nationale des Acteurs de la Filière Banane de Sénégal). The focus was on the banana production chain and the possibilities of support by the government. The Senegalese authorities are focusing on production for the local market (50,000 tonnes) and export (9000 tonnes). They’ve already been doing this for some other types of agricultural produce, such as onions. But lately there have been efforts on the export side as well, for example for beans, mangoes and sweet potatoes.
So, for the moment, banana production in Senegal is mainly targeting the internal market?
As far as I know, no bananas have been exported from Senegal in the past. At least, not until we started doing it. Last year we did some export trials in cooperation with Colruyt Group and Agrofair, a retailer and an importer, respectively. The aim of this collaboration was to get organic fairtrade bananas from Senegal into the shops of the Colruyt Group. When the first test container we shipped fared reasonably well (end 2014), we were hopeful for the future. The second shipment in November 2015 however, was more or less a disaster. The bananas didn’t meet the necessary quality standards and couldn’t be sold for distribution in the supermarkets. This was a huge disappointment for everyone concerned. The main reason for this failure was soon discovered. The problems come from within the production process itself. A banana plant needs a steady supply of water, otherwise the bananas ripen too fast and you get bananas that are still green on the outside but already ripe on the inside, which makes them useless for export. In fact, this demonstrates the principal challenge facing Aprovag, the farmers’ organisation we work with. They need to organise the whole chain in a more industrial manner. This means that each link in the value chain, from seedlings to packaging and transport, needs to be methodically organised. That way of working demands discipline.