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Banana prices are ripe for change, speaker says

Fair Food Campaign hosts Equal Exchange speaker to promote fair trade food sourcing

While bananas are some of the cheapest and most popular products in most grocery stores, they are often sourced from companies that do not adhere to fair-trade practices, according to Angelica Hicks, who coordinates the banana supply chain for distributor and cooperative Equal Exchange.

The Brown Fair Food Campaign hosted Hicks March 4, in an event titled “Beyond the Peel: Exploration of Injustice in the Banana Industry.” The talk kicked their Farmworkers Awareness Week, which aims to educate students about sourcing foods more responsibly.

During her talk, Hicks described the persistent cost problem associated with the banana industry. Grocery store owners are especially resistant to raising banana prices, as their consumers tend to be unwilling to buy bananas for more than $1 per pound, Hicks said. As a result, grocery shop owners have come to keep banana prices artificially low to encourage people to shop in their stores — allowing for the standard price of bananas to remain around 60 cents per pound for a decade. But during that time, costs of producing the fruit have continued to rise.

Hicks encouraged students to promote just treatment of producers by purchasing fair-trade bananas, even though they come with a higher price tag of about 99 cents per pound. “It’s kind of crazy that we’re importing so many bananas to this country and selling them at 60 cents a pound, based on how much work has to go into preserving them,” she said.

Hicks and Equal Exchange also work with small farmer cooperatives to promote fair trade with chocolate, tea and dried fruits. Equal Exchange hopes to encourage all consumers, including the University, to purchase from fair trade providers.

In 2009, the University committed to the Real Food Challenge, which includes the consideration of fair trade purchases, among other criteria. As of FY 18, two percent of Brown Dining Services’ purchases were in line with fair trade standards — a number that the Brown Fair Food Campaign hopes to raise.

“Our ultimate goal is to get Brown to commit to sourcing foods more fairly,” said Emily Ma ’21, a member of the Brown Fair Food Campaign.

Members of the campaign have been regularly meeting with Brown Dining Services to discuss alternate options for sourcing bananas as well as other products, said Chiraag Nataraj GS, a member of the Brown Fair Food Campaign.



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