The Farm-to-Table Journey of Kenyan Bananas

Farm-to-Table

As modern food production for today’s shoppers becomes increasingly more focused on the delivery of attractive, marketable products that build brand loyalty, many consumers have little to no idea where their food actually comes from; relying instead on promotional advertising or packaging labels for information.

An alternative to this approach is the farm-to-table concept which seeks to establish a more transparent link between consumers and producers. At its core, the concept supports locally grown food and aims to reduce the amount of food lost during the production process, while encouraging broader awareness of the quality and origin of the food we eat.

The World Has Gone "Bananas"
Our food, especially fruit and vegetables, will undergo amazing journeys along the food supply chain before it reaches our table. Take the banana for instance. It is one of the most popular tropical fruits, with approximately 105 million tons produced each year across 150 countries.1 However, because bananas can only be grown in tropical or subtropical climates, the banana often has to be transported great distances in order to reach tables around the world.

IN follows the farm-to-table journey of Kenyan bananas2; exploring each step they take before becoming an afternoon snack or a banana split in a far-flung corner of the globe.

1. Growers/Harvesters – Bananas are grown on herbs and not trees as widely assumed. Herbs are defined as a seed-producing annual, biennial or perennial plant that does not develop persistent woody tissue but dies down at the end of a growing season.3 Banana herbs are typically grown in huge plantations, can reach up to 15 meters high4 and take nine months to produce fruit. Once green banana bunches have been harvested, the host herbs die.

2. Transportation – Banana bunches are then packed into woven plastic sacks lined with banana leaves and transported from the plantation via a pickup or open air truck, motorbike or ox cart, depending on their next destination. At this point, the fruit is vulnerable to damage by being thrown around, sat on, pierced, bruised or infected by insects.

3a. Local Sale – If the bananas are to be consumed locally, they will be transported to either a local “hawker” or market. Here they will be managed by local sellers, who keep them in sheds with avocados to speed up the ripening process and prepare them for local purchase.

3b. Exportation – If the bananas are destined for markets such as Europe or the United States, they are packed in huge refrigerated freight containers. At this point, only perfectly formed bananas are packed for export – it is estimated that 30-40 percent of all bananas grown are rejected at this stage because of aesthetic issues. Europe typically imports bananas grown in African, Pacific and Caribbean countries, while the United States largely imports them from Latin America.

4. Arrival – Upon reaching their overseas market, the bananas are delivered to a distribution and ripening center where bunches are separated and the fruit is cleaned, ripened and packaged.

5. Supermarkets – The bananas are then shipped to supermarkets, where they are sold to consumers. The most post-harvest loss of bananas occurs at selling points where the fruit cannot be kept at a reasonable temperature to maintain its shelf life. Without adequate preservation the fruit quickly over-ripens and deteriorates.

6. Consumption – This stage of the journey is defined as the point at which the bananas have been purchased by consumers, either through supermarkets or at a fresh market. To put consumption rates into some context, each person in the UK eats an average of 10 kilograms of bananas each year, or approximately 100 bananas!5

Protective Layers
The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) defines food loss as the amount of edible food mass lost throughout the supply chain. The solution, it says, should not be more expensive than the food loss itself. It should also not place a higher burden on the environment and greenhouse gas emissions, and the food should be made available to people that need it most in a socially and culturally acceptable manner.

In its report, titled Food Loss Assessments: Causes and Solutions (2014), the FAO suggests several techniques for preventing the loss of bananas during their journey from farm-to-table; including the use of more fiberboard in farm packaging; the use of boxes in transportation; improved shade or shed structures at outside retail points; and the use of umbrellas or coolers if sold in supermarkets or by “hawkers”.

1 BananaLink http://www.bananalink.org.uk/all-about-bananas
2 FAO http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/user_upload/save-food/PDF/Kenya_Food_Loss_Studies.pdf
3 Merriam Webster http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/herb
4 BananaLink http://www.bananalink.org.uk/all-about-bananas
5 BananaLink http://www.bananalink.org.uk/all-about-bananas