Meet the Minister for Bananas
Meet Carlos Velez, sub-secretary for Agriculture, Ecuador’s ‘Minister for Bananas’. He calls the El Guabo Association of Small Banana Producers ‘a paradise’.
July 15th 2013
Meet Carlos Velez, sub-secretary for Agriculture, Ecuador's 'Minister for Bananas'. We met Carlos to find out what he thinks about the banana industry in Ecuador. He says bananas are Ecuador's most important industry and that El Guabo is the future of the industry. He calls the El Guabo Association of Small Banana Producers 'a paradise'.
Carlos' role is to make sure that banana companies working in Ecuador stick to the law. Bananas are big business. Over 5 million boxes are exported each week. Although oil generates more revenue, the banana industry supports a larger proportion of the population and it's Carlos' job to make sure the people who produce those boxes get paid a fair price. It's a tough job. Every year he resides over hundreds of cases of exporters not paying producers a fair price, and those are only the cases his department is aware of.
"The problem of the industry is that some companies don't want to pay the right price, they use a lot of alternatives, and we have to be like Sherlock Holmes… that's not the way." Carlos Velez
Everyone in the banana industry is required to register with the department of agriculture and contracts between producers and exporters are mandatory. But intermediaries and exporters do not have a history of good governance.
Carlos calls himself the 'banana judge'. When exporters fail to pay producers the official price it's his job to make them pay or fine them – he currently has two lawsuits filed against him by banana exporters that he's fined for not obeying the law.
The official price for a box of bananas is set every year by a group representing the government, exporters and producers across the entire industry. They meet in November to argue the amount and publish the new official price in the New Year.
According to Carlos, "some companies are not serious, they don't pay the producers the official price so we make them pay… if they pay the right price, we're happy".
But Carlos also admits that, unofficially, intermediaries are still operating even though they are illegal, and he would like to see them eliminated. He believes the way of 'taking care' of these intermediaries is with associations that represent growers. The scale of these associations protects individual growers from exploitation. Collectively they can sell much larger volumes of bananas and negotiate a fair price for them.
Better still are associations like El Guabo that not only collectively supply bananas but have organised themselves to export them. El Guabo was the first successful Fairtrade banana cooperative in Ecuador and a role model for other producer organisations in Ecuador and around the world.
"The most important thing is that Association El Guabo is a family – when you have a child with a problem you go running to solve it. El Guabo is like that, it's a big family – they all help each other, they sell all their bananas in New Zealand and in Europe and they get the right price. That's why I can tell you that for us, the working government, we have no problems, the problem is that they are only 1% of the people who produce bananas in Ecuador," he says.
We want to to help Carlos make that 1% much bigger. You can help by buying All Good bananas – look for the yellow tape.