After years of postponement due to concerns over the potential spread of pests and diseases into production countries, the Third Conference of the World Banana Forum (WBF) is due to take place later this year in a country famed for its neutrality – Switzerland.
The event is facilitated by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and follows on from the inaugural conference held in Italy in 2009 and the second gathering in Ecuador three years later.
Hundreds of people including banana industry leaders and representatives from producer organisations, governments, trade associations, non-governmental organisations, certifiers and retailers will meet in Geneva from November 7-10.
Pascal Liu from the FAO told PBUK the WBF was established in 2009 following decades of disputes within the industry.
“The banana sector was characterised by controversy and tensions for many decades between the different stakeholders, including banana worker unions and plantation management,” he said.
“There were also trade disputes between different banana-exporting and importing countries.”
He explained the WBF is a permanent platform that promotes collaboration and open dialogue on challenges facing the industry by bringing together key stakeholders.
The forum has three working groups – addressing environmental, social and economic issues – as well as taskforces including one focused on Fusarium wilt Tropical Race IV (TR4), which is currently posing a severe threat to numerous banana-growing countries.
Fusarium wilt is also known as Panama disease, although Liu said the FAO did not use this term as it was inaccurate and unfair to the Central American country which is not responsible for the disease.
A wide range of issues will be discussed at the upcoming event, which Liu expected to be attended by around 300 people.
“There are going to be many topics. New pests and diseases are important, but also efficiency and new technology in the supply chain,” he said.
“There is also the topic also of occupational health, and we will present the WBF’s Banana Occupational Health and Safety Initiative, which is making great progress.”
Best practises for sustainable production systems will also be discussed, along with how value can be best distributed along the supply chain, which Liu said was very important for the industry’s future sustainability.
“There is a lot of downward pressure on price, especially exerted at the level of the importing countries,” he said.
“Sometimes there are price wars between some supermarket chains which leads to a decrease in prices all along the chain down to the producers, and especially for small and medium producers it is very difficult to cope with low farm gate prices.”
He said part of the solution to this problem would be fostering collaboration among retailers, and between them and the other industry players, so as to ultimately provide better prices to producers and higher wages to plantation workers.
A side event will also be held on how gender equity can be promoted more in the industry.
“There are many aspects to this – the issue of discrimination, equal pay for equal work, the issue of working hours for women, the issue of distribution of tasks – because sometimes women are excluded from some tasks in the industry,” he said.
A session on the future of bananas will also look at the progress of new varietal development around the world.
Registration for the event is due to open shortly. For more information, click here.