Trade and markets

Banana facts and figures



1/ How many banana varieties exist and what are the differences?

There are more than 1 000 varieties of bananas produced and consumed locally in the world, but the most commercialized is the Cavendish type banana, which accounts for around 47 percent of global production. Cavendish banana crops are able to achieve high yields per hectare and, due to their short stems, are less prone to damage from environmental influences such as storms. Cavendish banana plants are also known for recovering from natural disasters quickly. Approximately 50 billion tonnes of Cavendish bananas are produced globally every year.

Virtually all bananas supplied to the US and European markets are Cavendish, which are better suited to international trade than other varieties as they are more resilient to the effects of global travel. Cavendish are also the major type of bananas produced and consumed in China, and account for one‑quarter of production and consumption of bananas in India (Bioversity).


2/ What is the difference between bananas and plantains?

Plantain is the name of a large group of bananas that has upwards of 100 cultivars[1]. The expression "bananas and plantains" has created confusion as to what plantains are. Contrary to what it suggests, plantains are bananas. In many languages such as Spanish, where the name plátano refers to both bananas and plantains, the terms are used interchangeably.

Banana cultivar diversity comprises a plethora of types, which are grown for many different purposes. Dessert types such as the Cavendish banana can be eaten raw, as they are sweet and easily digestible when ripe. Cooking types such as plantains are usually starchy even when ripe and need to be boiled, fried or roasted to make them palatable. Some cultivars can have dual use.

More information on banana cultivars can be found on the Promusa website, which contains a banana knowledge compendium and an online checklist of banana cultivars.




3/ What is the current volume of global banana production?

Precise figures on total global banana production are difficult to obtain as banana cultivation is often conducted by smallholder farmers and traded in the informal sector, which is often untraceable. For example, some 70-80 percent of production in Africa are local bananas that have been present on the continent for over 1 000 years. These are mostly cooking bananas that are a popular and important staple food. Available data indicate that between 2000 and 2015, global production of bananas grew at a compound annual rate of 3.7 percent, reaching a record of 117.9 million tonnes in 2015, up from around 68.2 million tonnes in 2000.


4/ Which countries are the biggest producers of bananas?

Bananas are predominantly produced in Asia, Latin America and Africa. The biggest producers are India, which produced 29 million tonnes per year on average between 2010 and 2015, and China at 11 million tonnes. Production in both countries mostly serves the domestic market. Other large producers are the Philippines with an annual average of 9 million tonnes between 2010 and 2015, and Ecuador and Brazil both at an average of 7 million tonnes.


5/ What is the estimated harvested area globally?

Approximately 5.5 million hectares of land are dedicated to banana production globally, according to latest available data from 2015 (FAOSTAT). The rapid expansion of the banana industry is evident in the evolution of the harvested area over time, which amounted to 3.6 million hectares in 1993 and 4.6 million hectares in 2000 (FAOSTAT).


6/ What is the average yield of bananas?

Productivity levels of banana production differ from country to country and from variety to variety. In general, within commercial banana production of the Cavendish variety, the average yield per hectare ranges between 40 and 50 tonnes. Some of the large producers in countries with well‑established industries such as the Philippines and India can reach average yields of around 60 tonnes per hectare, while smaller producers in other countries only produce around 30 tonnes per hectare.

Data from the Philippines show the gap in productivity levels between different types of bananas, with varieties such as Saba (cooking banana from the ABB cultivar) and Lakatan (dessert banana from the Cavendish group), which are primarily produced for the local market, featuring an average yield per hectare of only 11-13 tonnes (Philippine Statistics Authority).

                Overall, the banana industry has achieved rapid improvements in productivity, with the average yield increasing from around 14 tonnes per hectare in 1993 to 21 tonnes per hectare in 2015 (FAOSTAT).


7/ What are the main drivers of global banana production?

With the global population surpassing seven billion people, the main driver of fast production expansion has been the increasing consumption requirements of rising populations in developing countries. Accordingly, the bulk of the global production increase has come from top producers who are also top consumers such as Brazil, the Philippines and, in particular, India and China. But also a growing health awareness in Western markets has contributed to rising demand, with banana consumption having substantially gained in popularity among European and North American consumers.


8/ How has production expanded?

To satisfy the growing demand, producing countries have mainly increased the harvested area. Improved productivity at the farm level involving better irrigation systems but also a substantially higher application of fertilizers, phytosanitary measures and pesticides have further enabled production growth. India and China are among the countries which have driven the strongest production expansion in recent years, in response to fast growth in domestic demand. Between 2000 and 2015, India and China each nearly doubled their harvested area, and achieved an increase in yields by 24 and 53 percent respectively.


9/ How is banana production cost structured?

 Banana production costs include mainly labour costs, fertilizer expenses, and costs for phytosanitary control and pesticide use. Expenditures on fertilizers and pesticides have recently gone up because of higher unit prices and, more importantly, because of a higher frequency of use.

For example, production costs for commercially traded bananas in Ecuador, the biggest exporter of bananas, are comprised as follows: direct and indirect labour costs 38 percent; agrochemicals and other inputs 40 percent; transport 7 percent; and the remainder for materials, general services, equipment et al. (AEBE (Ecuador’s Association of Banana Exporters), 2013).




10/ How much revenue does the global banana industry generate in dollar terms?

Based on 2016 export figures, the global banana industry generates around USD 8 billion per year. However, it is important to note that only 15 percent of banana production is traded in the international market; the rest is consumed locally, most importantly in large producing countries such as India, China and Brazil, and in some African countries where bananas contribute largely to people’s diets.


11/ Which country has the biggest banana industry in terms of GDP? In terms of sales?

In some of the biggest exporting countries, earnings from banana production weigh heavily in net agricultural production (see table). An assessment of production and trade figures from 2013 indicates that banana ranked as the top export crop in terms of value in Ecuador, second in the Philippines and Costa Rica, and third in Colombia and Guatemala. In terms of agricultural production value, banana accounted for one‑quarter of production in Ecuador, nearly one‑fifth in Costa Rica and Guatemala, and approximately one‑tenth in the Philippines.



2013 Export value 1 000 USD

Rank in terms of agricultural export value 2013

Share of net agricultural production value 2013

Share of total agricultural export value 2013


         2 292 730





             963 412




Costa Rica

             778 391





             715 874





             611 785





12/ Which countries are the biggest banana exporters?

The main exporter is Ecuador, which accounted for an annual average of one‑third of total global banana export volume between 2010 and 2016. Other large exporters are the Philippines (14 percent volume share between 2010 and 2016), Costa Rica (12 percent), Guatemala (11 percent) and Colombia (11 percent).

The majority of exports from Central and South America are directed at the North American markets, western Europe, Japan and Russian Federation; exports from Africa and the Caribbean are mainly traded in the European market and exports from the Philippines in the Asian market. The main exporters of organic bananas are Colombia, Peru and the Dominican Republic.


13/ Which countries are the biggest banana importers?

By far the biggest importer is the European Union, which accounted for an annual average of 29 percent of total global imports between 2010 and 2016, followed by the United States (27 percent). The Russian Federation (8 percent), Japan (6 percent) and China (5 percent) are other noteworthy importers. The main importer of organic bananas is the United Kingdom.


14/ Why are some top banana producers not exporting?

Some top producers export only a small fraction of their banana production simply because their autarky price at their borders is higher than the international price.

 Similarly, access to and participation in global trade of these top producers hinges on other factors. The absence of supporting trade policies, proliferation of preferential agreements and lack of competitiveness may hinder many producing countries’ entry into the international market.



15/ Which countries are the main consumers of bananas?

There are many varieties of banana (mostly non-traded) and statistics on consumption remain sketchy. Filipinos reportedly have the highest per capita consumption, around 60kg/year, followed by Brazilians (similar number). But in many African countries such as Uganda, Rwanda and Cameroon, per capita consumption exceeds 200 kg of banana (all types including non-Cavendish and plantains). Especially in rural areas in these countries, banana can provide up to 25 percent of the daily calorie intake (FAO sources). According to some estimates, more than 100 billion bananas are consumed globally each year (Bananalink).


16/How do bananas contribute to food security?

Revenue generated from trade in bananas plays an important role with regards to the food import bill of producing countries. For example, export revenue from bananas covered 40 percent of Costa Rica’s food import bill and 27 percent of Guatemala’s in 2014.

Bananas have a particular significance in some of the least developed and low income food‑deficit countries, where they contribute not only to household food security as a staple but also to income generation as a cash crop. Research conducted in ten banana producing countries revealed that income from banana farming accounts for some 75 percent of total monthly household income for smallholder farmers (Bioversity).




17/ Who are the large international companies operating in banana production and trade?

There are five big multinational trading companies, which engage in the production, purchase, transport and marketing of bananas. These are Chiquita, which recently moved its headquarters to Geneva, Switzerland, Fresh Del Monte, Dole, Fyffes and Noboa. Fyffes, which is based in Ireland, primarily supplies bananas to Europe.

Aside from these players, major supermarket chains in the United States and the European Union are extending their bargaining power in global trade as they are increasingly purchasing from smaller wholesalers or even directly from growers. In the United Kingdom, for example, supermarkets sell 80 percent of the bananas available to consumers. This puts the leading British supermarket chains Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda, which together account for some 60 percent of banana sales in the retail sector, in a strong position to influence import prices (Bananalink, 2014).


18/ How have banana prices evolved? Are prices rising?

The banana market is highly segmented. Domestic price movements are often different from international price movements. Overall, import prices in large markets like the European Union and the United States have been stable at around USD 0.90-1 per kilogram in recent years. Retail prices showed more varied movements. For example, retail prices in the United States remained largely stable, while retail prices in France witnessed a pronounced upward movement between 2010 and 2016.

Banana prices in the international market are also influenced by fuel prices, particularly the so called ‘bunker oil’ which is affecting the cost of banana transports. In local markets, banana prices may also vary considerably depending on the level of the exchange rate of the local currency vis-à-vis the United States dollar.




19/ What diseases threaten banana production?

A serious threat to banana production continues to be the so-called Tropical Race 4 (TR4) of the Fusarium wilt fungus that has been affecting banana production in Asia. TR4 is a soil pathogen that attacks the roots of the plant and blocks its vascular system. This particular race of the fungus was first discovered in the 1990s in Malaysia and Indonesia and spread quickly to China, where TR4 now occurs widely. Production in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines has also been severely affected by TR4, threatening livelihoods of local populations and especially income opportunities for smallholder banana farmers. Australia is also affected by the disease and taking severe measures to contain the outbreaks.


20/ Do banana diseases threaten food security in developing countries?

The impact of TR4 on food security in developing countries has so far luckily been limited because the spread of the disease is gradual at larger scale. The disease predominantly affects the Cavendish variety, which primarily meets the international market demand but is also important for local consumption in developing countries. Because once the disease is established there is no means of eradication, it is considered as a serious threat. Difficulties in accessing disease free planting materials and weaknesses in implementation of necessary phytosanitary measures make developing countries and particularly smallholder banana farmers vulnerable to the disease. Discovery of TR4 in northern Mozambique in 2013 has further sparked concern that the disease may also spread to other countries, where bananas represent a lifeline for food security.


21/ What other challenges does the banana sector face?

Bananas are among the most produced and consumed foods globally. Because of the large production scale and the oftentimes harsh production methods employed to control irrigation and plant diseases, the impacts of banana production on the environment (soil, water, air, animals, humans, biodiversity) and resource uses are of great concern.

Another big issue in banana production continues to be rising production costs. Combined with high levels of competition among international traders and leading retail chains, which are exerting strong downward influence on prices, pressure on workers’ wages and already impoverished smallholder farmers continues to persist. Low prices are a major obstacle for producers in coping with other challenges in the sector as they greatly hinder the payment of decent wages and investments in sustainable production methods.




22/ Is there a place where challenges to the global banana industry are discussed?

To help tackle the various challenges faced by the global banana industry, the main stakeholders of the sector, with the support of FAO, created a multi-stakeholder platform called the World Banana Forum (WBF). This provides a space where the main stakeholders of the global banana supply-chain work together to achieve consensus on best practices for sustainable production and trade. The mission of the World Banana Forum is to: inspire collaboration between stakeholders that produces pragmatic outcomes for the betterment of the banana industry; and achieve consensus of best practices regarding workplace issues, gender equity, environmental impact, sustainable production and economic issues. The WBF brings together retailers, importers, producers, exporters, consumer associations, governments, research institutions, trade unions and other civil society organizations.


22/ What does the FAO Intergovernmental Group on Bananas and Tropical Fruits do?

The FAO Intergovernmental Group (IGG) on Bananas and Tropical Fruits represents a forum for intergovernmental consultation and exchange on trends in production, consumption, trade and prices of bananas and tropical fruits, including regular appraisal of the global market situation and short‑term outlook. The Group, under FAO auspices, considers changes in national policies and examines their international effects as pertaining to the current and prospective market situation. As such, FAO is working with governments to help them build viable banana sectors by maintaining good cultivation practices, preventing and fighting plant diseases, strengthening producer organizations and developing both domestic and international marketing strategies.




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Production by region