Ivory Coast banana growers bounce back
TWO years after devastating floods, banana planters in Ivory Coast have staged a comeback, eyeing an increase in production and new markets for the popular fruit.
The west African country, which has grown bananas for more than 50 years, was annually exporting almost 300,000 tonnes of fruit before disaster struck.
In Nieky, a vital banana-growing region, many have scarred memories of the events of June 2014.
In fewer than 48 hours, pounding water forced the Agneby River to burst its banks, unleashing a muddy wall of water that damaged 1300 hectares (3200 acres) of banana fields.
The land is owned by the Banana Cultivation Research and Development Company (SCB), which accounts for 70 percent of national production.
“A quarter of our turnover was wiped out,” SCB managing director Olivier Biberson told AFP.
Thanks to a reconstruction effort that cost 6 million euros ($6.6 million) – 80 percent of which came from the EU – 850 hectares of bananas were replanted over 15 months and dikes were reinforced to prevent the land being swamped again.
Today, 1400 plantation workers are back at work in jobs that feed 10,000 people.
“The situation is under control. We have managed to recover our production levels,” said Kossomina Ouattara, the plantation supervisor.
Bananas are widely grown in Africa, especially varieties that are used for cooking, while Ivory Coast has carved itself out a niche in the classic yellow “dessert” banana – and is second to Cameroon as Africa’s biggest exporter of the fruit.
In 2015, the country exported nearly 300,000 tonnes of bananas, worth $285.7 million, according to industry sources, making it the world’s 12th-largest exporter with 2.7pc of global market share.
Agriculture in the country of 23 million accounts for a quarter of GDP – bananas, along with cocoa and coffee, are a vital part of the economy.
Banana planters have launched a recovery plan with a view to hiking production to 500,000 tonnes by 2020 and are hoping to build up a lucrative sub-regional market in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.
But a shadow lies over this scheme.
The floods have highlighted the sector’s vulnerability to bad weather, prompting some to fear the hand of global warming in driving costly disasters of this kind.
“The flooding was a consequence of climate change,” Mr Ouattara said, explaining that the downpour was by far the worst in several decades. –
Workers cut bananas from a tree in a plantation field near Dabou, around 45 kilometres (28 miles) from Abidjan.