(Chapter II-IV formed together the meeting's background document sent out prior to the meeting)
Based on the recommendations of the Sub-Group on bananas of the Intergovernmental Groups on Bananas and on Tropical Fruits at its First session in 1999, the horticultural products group of the Commodities and Trade Division of FAO organized an ad hoc Expert Meeting on Socially and Environmentally Responsible Banana Production and Trade in Rome in March 2000. The meeting gathered experts from various environmental and social standard setting and labelling initiatives, small banana growers and consultants. A comparative study of the main social and environmental standard setting and certification initiatives in the banana sector was presented. The debates centred on the constraints encountered in setting appropriate standards and monitoring their application. The meeting recognised that each certification initiative has its specificity and a role to play. Each respond to different consumer demands and has a different vision, but they all share the same goal of increasing sustainability in the banana and horticulture industry.
It was suggested to create an electronic forum to share information, also with participation of stakeholders outside the limited circle of social and environmental standard setting programmes. Research on how joint inspections could be implemented in practice was considered desirable by all the programmes. In addition research could be undertaken on the monitoring of labour standards, the definition of basic needs and common criteria for worker health and safety. Consideration was also given on pooling of information on good practices in banana cultivation. In order to reduce confusion on what is covered by the various labels and schemes and to ensure that retailers and wholesalers understand the differences between various initiatives, it was agreed to prepare a brochure. To continue this dialogue, execute the proposed activities and monitor progress, an ad hoc working group was created, in which all participants joined. It was recommended that the group meet regularly, at least once per year.
The Working Group on Socially and Environmentally Responsible Horticulture Production and Trade has developed since then into an informal and loose group of experts, with communication facilitated by the Horticultural Products Group of FAO. The first activity undertaken by the Working Group was the production of a brochure in which SAN, FLO, IFOAM and SAI presented themselves and their activities in banana certification. The brochure was finished in July 2001 and distributed widely. In October 2001 a moderated electronic forum started, to exchange information on developments in the world's banana industry and to discuss social, economic and environmental issues in banana production and trade. Participation in the forum is free and currently counts about 75 subscribers.
In December 2001 a second Expert Meeting was organized in Costa Rica. The first day of the meeting was dedicated to the Working Group. Recent developments in the standard setting and certification initiatives active in the banana sector were presented. The participants agreed on a plan of activities for the Working Group. It was agreed to broaden the scope of the group to other tropical horticultural crops. On the second day various representatives of the Costa Rican Ministry of Agriculture, banana producers and the Consumers Union presented their experiences with the various certification initiatives. In the afternoon discussions were held in two groups.
The debate on social standards concentrated on: the quality of auditing; the involvement of stakeholders in the certification process; local specificity and flexibility; and the relation with local governments and international trade negotiations. The group agreed that the main accomplishment of social standards and certification so far had been to bring the issues into the open.
The debate on environmental standards focussed on the multiplication of certification initiatives and on ways of increasing the cost efficiency of certification. The group agreed that the actual impacts on the environment included a reduction of pollution and higher biodiversity around farms. Certification has increased environmental awareness and has promoted a cultural change in companies, farmers and their communities.
In the plan of activities for the working group, case studies for impact assessment of the certification programmes and cost-benefit analysis were prioritised. After discussion on objectives and methodology, a guiding checklist of necessary information was developed, including two alternative methodologies for cost-benefit analysis. Two case studies were executed in Costa Rica, one on citrus analysing costs and benefits of SAN certified and organic certified systems and one on smallholder organic coffee production.
In addition, a web site was created on the Working Group, with basic information on the history and objectives of the group, the participants, the Banana Forum and with the documentation and reports of the expert meetings.1