Agriculture - Bananas

Agriculture - Bananas

Commercial cultivation of bananas began in the late nineteenth century, when United States and British investors first established plantations. Although the banana trade between British Honduras and New Orleans at first seemed promising, commerce was wiped out in the 1920s by an outbreak of the Panama disease. Another attempt to cultivate bananas was begun by the British during the 1960s, but the plantations were destroyed by hurricanes in 1975 and 1978. The subsequent takeover of banana cultivation by the Banana Control Board, a public enterprise, had the effect of further inhibiting production.

By mid-1985, the Banana Control Board had accumulated debts of US$9 million. The government reacted to the plight of the board by selling the 880 hectares under cultivation to the private sector. Five years later, banana production had almost tripled, and the cultivated area had increased to more than 2,400 hectares. The Banana Control Board was reorganized and retained the responsibility for marketing and research. In 1991 responsibility for the board was passed to the Banana Growers' Association.

Britain was the almost exclusive importer of Belizean bananas. Marketing of exports was handled by Fyffes International, a British subsidiary of the United States company, United Fruit. The special provisions of the Lomé Convention's Banana Protocol allowed Britain to guarantee artificially high prices for bananas to the beneficiaries of the protocol. These prices were above prices in the United States and Germany. The purpose of this special provision was to protect the central export crop of some of the islands of the Lesser Antilles, members of the Commonwealth of Nations, from ruinous competition from low-cost producers in Latin America.

The preferential access to EEC markets provided by the Lomé Convention was under advisement in 1991 by the EEC in connection with its single-European-market program. It appeared that Belize would be better prepared for a drop in prices than would the islands of the Lesser Antilles, as Belizean producers received far lower prices through the protocol than did their Caribbean neighbors.

New port facilities at Big Creek in southern Stann Creek District were expected to increase banana exports. Until 1990 Belizean bananas had had to go through Puerto Cortés, Honduras, which added to overhead. Fyffes then financed the construction of Big Creek, Belize's only deep-water port. This port was designed to serve as the main shipment point for Belizean bananas.

Between 1989 and 1991, banana production was hampered by cold weather and black sigatoka disease, but production was expected to double in 1992 because of the new port, better disease control, and improved drainage and irrigation systems. The susceptibility of bananas to disease and possible changes in Belize's preferential access to the British market were factors that could limit growth in this sector, however.

Country Studies main page | Belize Country Studies main page