Friday, November 07, 2014

Going Bananas

A recent article in the EPW, titled "GM Crops and Global Trade" points out that - "one company controls two-thirds of banana germ plasm of the world, four companies have 30% global market of seeds, and just six multinationals account for 77% of the pesticide market."

This got me curious.

How is it possible for one company to control two-thirds of banana germplasm? Does this mean that it has a hold over the myriad banana varieties dangling at a fruit-vendor's stall in Kerala?

If something seems out of place, it probably is.

According to the International Musa Germplasm Transit Center (ITC-Belgium), the center is "home to the world’s largest collection of banana (Musa) germplasm". ITC has over 1400 sample of edible and wild species of banana, cryo-preserved at -196C. Most importantly, it is not owned by any company and is therefore "freely available for international distribution upon request".

Perhaps the EPW article meant to convey that two-thirds of banana trade is controlled by one company. But even this is contrary to a recent FAO report which states -

FAO's review of the three largest banana traders (Chiquita, Dole and Del Monte), shows that the combined market share of the top three companies was at its highest the 1980's, when they controlled almost two-thirds (65.3 percent) of global banana exports, while in 2013, their market share was slightly over one-third (36.6 percent).

The global banana market is worth US$ 7 billion. Amazingly, nearly all the trading happens in only one variety of banana: Yellow-skin Cavendish.

Contrast this with the amazing variety of bananas available in South India. Even the humblest fruit-seller would have on display, at least five different types of the fruit on any given day. India's National Horticulture Board lists more than 11 varieties of banana including - Robusta, Rasthali, Poovan, Nendran, Red-Banana (Kappa Pazham), Virupakshi, Panchanadan, Monthan and Karpuravalli!

So, far from controlling two-thirds of banana germplasm, the MNCs have only focused one single variety. It is as though all the florists in the world were stocking only roses or as though all the eateries were serving just burgers.

This also one reason why the supermarkets will never overrun the local  kirana shops and chaya-kada's -- they just cannot offer ten different types of bananas!



* Singh, Sukhpal (2014): GM CROPS AND GLOBAL TRADE, EPW, 18 October 2014 --

* ITC Belgium -

* (Reuters, 27 OCt 2914) --

* FAO - The Changing Face of Global Banana Trade -

- FAO Full Report (2014) -


* National Horticulture Board (NH‌B), India - Banana Varieties -

Wiki -
- Enset - -- 'False Banana' grown in Ethiopia for its edible roots!

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