'Green' Bananas: Unique Program Saves Rain Forests
Conservationists and farmers set standards that may revolutionize the industry
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The final standards regulate pesticide use, ban clear-cutting of primary rain forests, require growers to plant trees to control erosion and provide wildlife habitat, and dictate the management of plastic and organic waste. The standards also require that farm workers receive safety equipment and training, health checkups, and appropriate housing.Skip to next paragraph
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THE broad set of standards now used by ECO-O.K. to evaluate farming operations sets the program apart. After their initial assessment, field technicians - including biologists, agronomists, geographers, and foresters - let farmers know where they fall short of standards, then work with them to develop ways to reduce the negative environmental impacts of their operation.
To meet certification standards on its farms, Chiquita has worked to protect forest preserves, plant buffer zones of trees along waterways, recycle the large blue plastic bags used to cover bunches of ripening bananas, and improve facilities for workers.
According to Dave McLaughlin, senior director of productivity and environmental affairs for Chiquita Brands in San Jose, Calif., his company will have certified all 29 of its Costa Rican banana operations early this year and is working on bringing all those in other countries up to ECO-O.K. standards.
"Certification is a long process," says Magnes Welsh, director of public relations for Chiquita, "but we feel it is very worthwhile for the long term. What's good for the environment is good for our business."
What information is ECO-O.K. giving consumers? While most certified bananas are now sold in Europe and Hawaii, expect to see them in the continental US this year, Ms. Skinner says.
Farmer is 'Top Banana' in ECO-O.K. Scoring System
Volker Ribniger owns and operates Platanera Rio Sixaola, the first ECO-O.K. banana farm, near the town of Bribri on the southern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. Certified in 1993, the 272-acre plantation is a model of responsible low-impact banana farming for the many journalists, scientists, and banana farmers who often visit. The computerized scoring system that ECO-O.K. uses to rate banana operations (a farm must earn at least 800 out of a possible 1,000 points to be certified) gave his farm the only perfect score of the 32 ECO-O.K. farms surveyed. To win that rating, Mr. Ribniger:
*Cut no primary rain forest to create his plantation.
*Uses organic waste for compost and plants a cover crop under banana plants to enrich the soil and prevent erosion.
*Uses no herbicides or insecticides, and sprays fungicide only as necessary (traditional farms routinely spray every month).
*Planted trees along the road bordering his farm to create a valuable "biological corridor" for wildlife.
*Filters the water used to wash and sort bananas before it runs into a nearby wild stream.
*Provides training, good pay, and housing for employees, as well as a packing plant deemed clean, safe, and well-organized.
Ribniger, originally from Germany, sells his bananas in Europe, where ecologically grown produce is much in demand. He's a "maverick in the banana business," says Chris Wille, ECO-O.K.'s director in Costa Rica, who recalls how Ribniger brought his workers with him to the certification ceremony in 1993 because they "shared his commitment to protecting the environment."