Bananas from Senegal
Bananas from Senegal
After a long period of drought in the 1980s, hundreds of people migrated towards the Gambia River, south of the city of Tambacounda. They established new villages, and soon the farming families organised themselves into the Association des PROducteurs de la VAllée fleuve de la Gambie (APROVAG), which today consists of 10 local farmer groups (Economic Interest Groupings - EIGs) in seven villages.
Over the years, APROVAG has developed into a strong farmers’ organisation. The families in the region depend on the cultivation of bananas for about 70% of their income. In addition, they grow cotton, peanuts and food crops. Only 35% of APROVAG’s members are able to put aside part of their profits after selling in order to save money. The ‘soudure’, the period when there is no banana harvesting, remains a precarious time for many families. About half of the farming families still find it tough to get by during this period.
Banana-growing nevertheless shows great potential. Bananas are in great demand on the Senegalese market, especially in the cities. But farmers’ organisations such as APROVAG find it hard to compete with the bananas from the Ivory Coast, which originate from plantations destined for export to Europe, and are of higher quality. The members of APROVAG need to move up a gear to catch up. Vredeseilanden has supported the farmers’ organisation since 2007 in its ambition to develop into a professional partner in the Senegalese and international banana business.
In 2010 fruit importer Agrofair came into contact with APROVAG. Agrofair brings, for example, Fair Trade-certified bananas of the ‘Oké’ and ‘Eko Oké’ brands to the Belgian market; these are mainly of Peruvian origin. Since the organic Fair Trade banana market is on the rise, and since it is interesting to diversify the supply with bananas from Africa, they looked for new producer organisations with which to collaborate.
Two years after their first meeting, Agrofair decided to step up its support for APROVAG with a view to the export market. Rikolto subsequently introduced them to the Colruyt Group, the biggest retail group in Belgium. Colruyt showed interest in buying bananas from Senegal. The result of all these efforts was a unique partnership in which transparency and cooperation in support of small-scale farmers are the key factors. Our purpose is to set up an efficient chain of quality bananas from Senegal to Belgium, which will benefit each link in the chain. And the ultimate goal is a higher income for farming families.
In 2016, we changed our stragety: the high-end market of Dakar is now our focus, export comes next.
- To increase productivity through better fertilization: There is still a shortage of sufficient organic fertilizers. This is why Rikolto is supporting the development of a compost company in Sankagne.
- To irrigate more economically: One banana plant needs 50 to 60 litres of water per day. Most farmers water their plants only a few times a week, using a garden hose; a very intensive job. The diesel for the pumps is very expensive, which weakens the farmers’ competitive position.
- To apply good agricultural practices: Each producer must fertilize, prune and thin out the plants (remove the small bananas so that other bananas can grow better) in the most effective way. All this has to be controlled, because the quality of a group sale is only as good as its weakest link. The quality control systems are not yet operational in every farmer group.
- Organisation and planning of plantations: Anyone who supplies supermarkets has to meet strict legal standards. Everything has to be traceable. All data on when the plants are fertilized, watered and harvested has to be carefully collected in order to plan production. These registration systems have not yet been implemented either.
- Quality, logistics and transport: What is the best way to pack bananas in boxes? What are the best boxes available on the Senegalese market? How do you make pallets and how do you organise transport from a plantation to Dakar? What forms do you need and what procedures have to be followed for export? APROVAG doesn't have any experience in these areas yet.
- Transparent prices and contracts: What is the cost of certification and what additional income does this generate for the producers (as a result of being able to ask higher prices)? How do you draw up transparent contracts? A lot of the extra processing work (washing, packing, etc.) is done by women. What is a proper wage for this labour? The budget has yet to be clarified. APROVAG still has little experience in drawing up formal contracts on paper.
- Certification: This summer, the farmer group Nguène II was granted organic and GLOBALG.A.P. certificates, and APROVAG/APROCOB was awarded Fair Trade certification. It remains a huge challenge to raise awareness among the other nine farmer groups and their members, and to set up the registration and control system that is necessary for organic and GLOBALG.A.P. certification (these are the requirements that farmers worldwide must meet with regard to food safety, sustainability and produce quality).
- Transformation of APROVAG: from association to company: APROVAG started out as a coordinating, subsidised association that looks after the interests of its affiliated members. APROVAG does very valuable political work, but this is sometimes difficult to reconcile with its commercial tasks. This is why the commercial arm APROCOB was founded. Nevertheless, it is a major challenge to get professional structures, procedures and attitudes accepted.
- Agronomic support from APROVAG. This means that farmers are given advice about how to get the most out of their plantations. And, especially, how to improve the quality of their bananas, for instance by fertilizing in an appropriate way, by ‘pruning’ and by preventing certain pests.
- Ensuring the production of organic fertilizer. In 2014 a small compost company was founded in Sankagne, which currently produces 45 tonnes of compost and creates jobs for 25 local young people. There is scope for expanding production. Furthermore, all members have to learn the best way to use organic fertilizer.
- Investigating the best irrigation method for plantations; this includes experimenting with economical sprinklers that can water the banana plants more specifically and more frequently.
- Investigating how banana farmers can best prepare to deal with climate change.
- Intensively coaching farmer groups to obtain all the necessary certificates for the export market: Ecocert, Fair Trade and GLOBALG.A.P. At the moment, only one farmer group holds these certificates.
- Rikolto is helping APROVAG and the farmers to set up the necessary registration, tracing and control systems to make export possible. This is just as necessary to be able to supply the quality markets of Dakar.
- Seeking investment capital to build cableways from the field to the packing stations, etc.
- Coaching APROCOB to become a profitable company. Optimizing financial, administrative and general business processes.
- Beneficiaries: a total of 10 farmer groups in seven villages (531 members). Five farmer groups, with 434 members in total, are being coached intensively to enable them to target quality markets.
- In 2013, for the first time, APROVAG concluded two formal paper contracts with traders. Last year they sold a total of 2,373 tonnes of bananas.
- To separate the commercial activities from the agronomic services that APROVAG renders to its members and the political work the organisation does, the company APROCOB was founded in 2014. This is the commercial arm of APROVAG.
- There is one farmer group (Nguène II) that satisfies all the conditions and has obtained the organic and GLOBALG.A.P. certificates. The umbrella organisation APROVAG/APROCOB is now Fair Trade-certified.
- In November 2014 a first experimental container of bananas was shipped off to give both APROVAG and the other players in the chain the opportunity to run through all the procedures. It went well. In the second shipment in November 2015 however, the bananas didn’t meet the necessary quality standards and couldn’t be sold for distribution in the supermarkets. The problems came from within the production process itself: water stress with the plants.
What do we expect in the long term?
- About 9,000 farmers will be active in Senegalese banana production as a whole, and 85,000 people will indirectly live on the entire banana business. They will be united in UNAFIBS, the Union Nationale des Acteurs de la Filière Banane du Sénégal.
Agrofair offers the necessary agronomic support and training and enters into clear commercial agreements with APROVAG.
The Colruyt Group agrees to buy at least 50% of the organic Fair Trade bananas as part of a long-term partnership via Agrofair, if APROVAG can deliver the required volumes and quality.
The organisation TASTE (Technical Assistance for Sustainable Trade & Environment), which is closely connected with Agrofair, develops projects in an attempt to attract funding for investments for APROVAG and producers’ groups.
APROVAG chiefly supports its members in the agronomic sphere and plays an important part in quality control. Vredeseilanden coaches APROVAG members to enable them to acquire the necessary capabilities.