Final Draft of: More Than You Would Ever Want To Know About BANANAS

This discussion topic submitted by Amy Goetz ( at 3:28 pm on 8/13/99. Additions were last made on Wednesday, May 7, 2014.

Completing partial requirements for the course Tropical Ecosystems of Costa Rica. See the Costa Rica image page for more banana images, movies and pictures.

The real costs of banana production are far more than .50 cents/pound!

I. Origin of the banana

A. Asia, Southern China, Indochina, Malay Archipelago

B. Primitive wild bananas still found here today

1. musa acuminata

2. musa bulbisiana

C. Cross pollination produced seedless edible bananas

II. History of bananas

A. Religion

1. Koran and Islamic legend claim it was the forbidden fruit in Paradise

2. legend says that Adam and Eve made their exit from the garden of Eden clothed in banana leaf apparel

3. in Hinduism the banana is considered a symbol of fertility and prosperity because it reproduces frequently and bananas are left in front of houses during weddings

B. Banana was first described in a book by Theophrastus, considered first botanical work known

C. In old Hawaii, young banana plants were used as truce flags during wars

D. Scientific name Musa Sapientum means "fruit of the wise men"

E. Introduction into Western Hemisphere

1. in 16th century by an early Spanish Priest

2. bananas came to Caribbean and Mexico shortly after Columbus' voyages

III. Costa Rica (CR) Banana Plantation History

A. First commercial banana plantation in CR started by Minor Keith in 1872 in the Zent Valley

B. By 1879 CR was regularly exporting bananas to the US

C. Boston Fruit Co. and Minor Keith joined forces in 1899, forming
United Fruit Co.

1. developed worldwide market

2. dominated Central American banana production

3. dominance created term "banana republics"

a. humiliating

b. still upheld today

D. 1956 Gov't in CR became concerned with growing number of plantations abandoned due to "Panama disease" from inefficient production technologies and careless use of country's natural resources by United Fruit Co.

E. In an attempt to offset downward trends, Gov't recruited Standard Fruit Co. (SFC) establishing it's own plantations and purchasing fruit from Costa Rican producers

F. SFC introduced Vallery banana clone

1. resistant to Panama Disease

2. increased production yields

3. favorable shipping and packing

4. acceptable to international consumers

5. required lots of chemical intervention

G. Nationalization of banana market in Ecuador in 1965 brought more companies to CR, intensifying competition and the need to produce more per hectare

H. Decade later, UFC reorganized becoming United Brands Co. and introduced Chiquita label to CR

I. In 1980s United Brands Co. closed pacific operations and returned to the atlantic under the name Compania Bananera del Atlantico Ltda (COBAL)

J. COBAL aggressively expanded banana production along Atlantic and is now second largest producer in the country

IV. Banana Pesticides

A. Use of pesticides to control agriculture pests is common on plantations

B. Frequent rains wash pesticides from target areas where pesticides are used extensively

C. When improperly managed, plantations contaminate wildlife, plants, water, air and soil

D. Other mismanagement leads to soil erosion, soil nutrient depletion and deforestation

E. Poor transport and improper storage of agricultural chemicals in developing countries are believed to result in a loss of pesticides of as much as 10 percent before application to .2 percent in developed countries

G. Pest Control and Fruit Protection

Irrigation canals transect much of the typical plantation. The potent smell of insecticides fills the air.

1. banana plants are attacked over 200 insect pests that either directly damage plants or act as pathogen vectors

2. use of insecticides to control pests have caused decreased numbers of insect predators, parasites, and has led to outbreaks of insects pests that were previously of little importance

3. control methods include using clean planting material, keeping base of plants clear of weeds, trapping pests, bagging fruit, dipping vulnerable plant parts in insecticides and treating fields with insects

V. Potential for Adverse Environmental and Health Effects

A. Evidence indicates that pesticides can cause acute toxicity and may also act as molecular inducers of cellular activity responsible for functions that regulate hormonal control of reproduction, sex differentiation, cell proliferation and immune system competence

B. World Heath Organization established that in 1985 pesticide poisonings affect approx. 3 million people/year and resulted in 220,000 death annually. Approximately 99 percent of these poisonings are estimated to occur in developing countries where training on proper pesticide use is limited and proper safety equipment is infrequently used

C. Costa Rica has hundreds of cases of poisonings occur in the banana sector of the country which is comprised of only 5 percent of the rural population

VI. Agrochemical use on Plantations

A. Most Organochlorine (OC) pesticides have been banned in the US but many developing countries still buy these compounds from US chemical companies for agricultural use and are used on plantations

B. Problem with OC pesticides

1. persist in environment

2. allows for increased exposure to wildlife and humans

3. causes health and safety hazards

C. Human tissue samples from Costa Rican hospitals contained alarmingly high concentrations of OC compounds

1. DDT and DDE, derived from OC compounds, were found in 100 percent of the tissue samples collected

2. agricultural workers had a mean DDT of 59.3 ug/g in their tissues while nonagricultural workers had a mean of 17.3 ug/g

D. Because of high lipid content, human breast milk accumulates high amounts of OC's

E. Gov't order 12264

1. in 1981 Gov't order 12264 was enacted to restrict the export of toxic chemicals whose sale had been banned in the US

2. this order was revoked in 1981 by Pres. Reagan in one of his first acts

F. Currently many chemicals used in banana cultivation have been or are in the process of being discontinued in the US due to toxicity concerns

VII. Workers and Strife

A. Facts and Figures

1. CR's who work for three multi-national banana co's- Del Monte, Dole and Chiquita are drawing attention to their working conditions

2. workers are faced with many harsh working conditions on a daily basis

a. having to carry on working while airplanes spray fungicides above them

b. applying agrochemicals eight hours a day, sometimes with out adequate protective clothing

c. working twelve hour days with out a break on low pay with little time off for sickness or maternity leave

VIII. Banana Politics (see March 31, 1999 issue of Time) article on Carl
Linder and Chiquita

VIIII. Conclusion

Some typical labels for Costa Rica bananas shipped worldwide.


Henriques, W, et al. "Agrochemical use on banana plantations in Latin America: Perspectives on Ecological Risk." Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 16.1 (1997): 91-99.

Hernandez, C.E.; Witter, S.G. "Evaluating and managing the environmental
impact of banana production in Costa Rica: A systems approach." AMBIO, 19960500 25.3 (1996) 171-178.

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