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TitleThe No-Nonsense Guide to Fair Trade (No-Nonsense Guides)
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Page 72


embossed aphorisms on them, such as: ‘i like to do
my giving while i’m living so i know where it’s going.’
though he preferred the republicans and lent robert
dole a corporate jet during the 1996 presidential
campaign, when he saw the electoral tide flowing
towards the democrats he slipped Bill Clinton a quick

a few days later the Banana War between the Us
Government and the eU, that had been simmering
away for years, duly boiled over. if, as a result of it,
Mr Lindner were to get the $500 million he reckoned
he was owed, then he would have made a handsome
return on his investment in Bill Clinton.

Warped world
Welcome, then, to the warped world of bananas. Or
rather, to the bent business of international trade in
bananas. there is a difference. For the Banana War
was being waged between two regions – the Us and
europe – that grow almost no bananas at all. On the
other hand, the world’s two largest banana producers
– Brazil and india – grow them largely for domestic
consumption alone and have little to do with the inter-
national trade.

almost everywhere in the tropics the fruit of the
world’s largest herb has been adopted by small farmers
as a prolific source of nutrition. the banana, Musa
sapiculum, is a remarkable plant structured rather
like a giant leek. there are many varieties growing
in myriad settings, from a few plants for household
consumption to plots for local markets. they grow
fast; the stem dies back once the fruit is harvested, but
already the next ‘follower’ is preparing to take over.
Carefully tended, on the right soil, in the right climate
and with minimal inputs, a plot of a couple of acres
(about one hectare) can produce several bunches, with
100 to 200 bananas on each of them, every week, all
year round, for 30 years.

Page 73


International trade
Less than a quarter of all the world’s bananas,
however, gets mixed up in international trade, and
it’s only when they do that they encounter the big-
banana business, where things can get a bit twisted.
Just one variety, dwarf Cavendish or Gran enano, is
preferred by the world banana trade. On plantations
across Central america, northern Latin america,
parts of africa and asia, vast numbers of clones are
planted out on flat land, much of which is swept by
hurricanes. the deforested land on which they grow
is drained and degraded. the plants are subjected to
ceaseless treatment by toxic chemicals. their unripe
fruit are cut green, fragile and inedible from the stem,
the bunches strung like carcasses to cableways that
carry them off for scrubbing with more chemicals.
Graded and packed into boxes, dispatched in refriger-
ated ships (‘reefers’) to europe and North america,
the hapless fruit is then ripened for supermarkets and
conjured into an image of ‘quality’ that people around
the world who live in ignorance of the truth wish to
consume in ever-increasing billions.

this is the ‘dollar’ banana that accounts for 80
per cent of the fruit we eat in the North and is
controlled by Chiquita, dole and del Monte. they
in turn are subsidiaries of conglomerates, like Mr
Lindner’s american Financial Group. together, the
Big three constitute an oligopoly that controls the
supply of bananas, fixes prices and has an inordinate
love of secrecy. When, in May 1998, the Cincinnati
Enquirer had the temerity to publish an exposé of
how Chiquita actually operates, the company sued.
it wasn’t that the reports were inaccurate. Quite the
reverse – they’d made use of the corporation’s internal
voice mail and thus violated its right to privacy. the
newspaper issued an abject apology, paid Chiquita an
undisclosed sum (thought to be in the region of $10
million), a journalist was sacked and prosecuted and


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