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Bananas are grown in all tropical regions and play a key role in the economies of many developing countries. In terms of gross value of production, bananas are the world’s fourth most important food crop after rice, wheat and maize. They are a staple food and an export commodity. As a staple, bananas (including plantains and other types of cooking bananas) contribute to the food security of millions of people in much of the developing world, and when traded in local markets they provide income and employment to rural populations. As an export commodity, they are key contributors to the economies of many low income food deficit countries, including Ecuador, Honduras, Guatemala, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire and the Philippines. Bananas are the world’s most exported fresh fruit in terms of volume and value. This publication deals mainly with production for export, not with bananas grown for self-consumption or sale in local markets. It updates similar studies by FAO in 1971 and 1986 by examining the developments in banana production and world trade during the period 1985-2002.

Banana production for export is considered a different economic and technological activity to banana production as a staple. Production for export relies on only a few varieties, which were selected for their high yields, durability in long distance transport, consistent quality and unblemished appearance. The volume of bananas exported worldwide in the period 1985-2002 grew at an unprecedented average annual rate of 5.3 percent; twice that of the previous 24 years (2.4 percent between 1960 and 1984). This expansion was accompanied by technological changes and changes in the world trade scenario including: the opening of socialist economies to world markets in the early 1990s; bilateral and multilateral efforts to liberalize trade (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade-GATT and the World Trade Organization-WTO); rising environmental awareness (Montreal Protocol in 1987 and the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992); the creation of the Single European Market in 1993; an unprecedented period of economic growth fostered by multimedia technologies and “the new economy” in the developed world; the implementation of structural adjustment policies in banana producing countries; and a significant concentration of trade at retail level. The publication starts with an overview of the evolution of production and trade in the last 15 years, and follows with an in-depth description and analysis of the events and causes underlying such developments. It reviews banana production and exports in the major exporting regions of the world; the evolution of imports and of import policies of major markets; technology changes at production and transportation levels; environmental and social concerns, policies and instruments; and the roles of transnational companies in the world banana economy.

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