The Banana is a Tool.

What does a banana mean?

 

I have chosen to investigate the implication of my consumption of a banana last Friday and the possible effects of this consumption on people and the environment.  This banana was grown in Guatemala and is a product of the Dole Company.   Upon investigation of the impact of the banana industry on the environment and people of Central America, I have found a world of intrigue and crime which arguably outweigh the positive aspects of the production of this crop.

Juan Lopez Velasquez,a farmer murdered by Guatemalan police at 2005 anti-CAFTA protest.

The environmental impact of the banana industry on the nation of Guatemala has primarily involved deforestation.  The effects branching out from this primary cause are widespread.  Loss of the ecologically valuable and diverse rainforest for this industry is a well-documented problem in this region.  The loss of rainforest has global implications.  These include the loss of carbon storage in biomass and the associated removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, as well as the huge amount of oxygen production by the plants.  The loss of biodiversity in the region has been immense, and the loss of species and subspecies to extinction has undoubtedly occurred.
As the banana industry has waxed and waned since the start of the 20th century, banana plantations are repeatedly abandoned and its workers left without jobs.  When these workers (who are o ten not from the plantation areas) are left without jobs, many move to subsistence farming in the only areas they will be allowed to cultivate, more rainforest.  If they do not move on to cut down more forest to farm for themselves, many move to ever-growing shantytowns in urban areas.  Environmental implications of the growth of these areas include additional deforestation and poor sanitation for the residents.  These problems have accelerated in the last 20 years as the banana industry has grown immensely.  By 2002, Guatemala produced nearly one million metric tons of bananas.
Additional environmental threats from banana cultivation include the use of pesticides such as dibromochloropropane (DBCP).  This is a fungicide that has been used by Dole (previously known as Standard Fruit) and has the known of sterilizing farm workers.  Runoff from the plantations enters groundwater and poisons sources of drinking water, causing further grievances of the people against the banana and petrochemical companies.

The use of the term “banana republic” refers to weak centralized governments in the region that have basically been installed there by American industries and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for the purpose of “greasing the wheels” of the flow of resources out of these countries.  Primarily and initially, bananas were the resource that began this disturbing trend.  In Guatemala in the 1950s, President Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala tried to force United Fruit to give back abandoned plantation land to the Guatemalan government so that it could be given to landless peasants.  With the help of the CIA, industry leaders had the president ousted in the name of a fervent anti-Communist sentiment that had taken hold in the U.S.  Across the region, union-busting “banana republic” leaders were installed, keeping workers’ rights and proper benefits virtually nonexistent.  These violations include the use of child labor, which has lasted into the current century.  Unions are still a dangerous undertaking as assassinations of union leaders still occur (2007).  These industries have taken the land in Central America without compensation to the people, and the flow of money and resources out of the country has been immense, with little benefit to Guatemalans outside of the privileged few.
Eating a banana never seemed so unappealing.  I knew that this sort of thing happened and that American anti-Communist activity led to vast killing in Central America for decades, but I didn’t really know that the banana was partially to blame.  The environmental degradation due to this industry is almost equally appalling.  I will try to buy more organic bananas from the United States if at all possible from now on, bost with a lower carbon footprint and without a boot to the neck of Latin America.

Additional source:

Vandermeer, J and Perfecto, I.  Breakfast of Biodiversity: The Truth about Rainforest Destruction. Oakland IFDP

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About Joe Doolen

I am a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's School of Journalism and Mass Communication. My aim is to write on science and international issues with a focus on environmental policy and justice. Topics range from local and domestic politics to international communications and culture, and anything cool about science really!!
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