UN agriculture agency launches handbook to improve safety in banana farming sector

GENEVA, Nov. 9, CMC – The United Nations agriculture agency and the Government of Ecuador on Wednesday launched a practical guide for workers in the banana sector – the most exported fresh fruit in the world, both by volume and by economic value – to promote healthier and safer work conditions.

“The banana sector serves as an essential source of employment and income for thousands of rural households in developing countries and the manual, while initially aimed at workers in Ecuador, can be adapted for use around the world,” said the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) .

Presented at the Third Conference of the World Banana Forum in Geneva, the publication outlines a series of recommendations for trainers and workers on how to manage banana farm risks and more safely carry out work.

It includes a wide range of guidelines covering topics, including proper handling, storage and use of agrochemicals/pesticides; measures for adequate personal protection, including first aid in emergency situations; ergonomic risk information; and ways to stop gender-related violence and other human rights abuses, according to the UN.

It said the conference brought together over 300 representatives from the banana sector in the Caribbean among other places, along with other stakeholders, including UN agencies, governments, importers, exporters, retailers, producers, consumer associations, trade unions and civil society organizations.

After cereals, sugar, coffee and cocoa, the FAO said bananas are the most traded agricultural product in the world.

“Attempts to lower production costs often lead to disastrous consequences on the rights of workers and on the environment,” it said.

“For example, banana plantations use 10 times more pesticides than conventional plantations in developed countries,” it added. “Elevated exposure to these agrochemicals can cause serious health problems for workers and neighboring communities – one of the topics addressed in the manual.”

The UN said the manual also serves as a guide to identify risks and also as a source of information regarding current legislation to report on work-related accidents.

Of the almost 100 million tons of bananas consumed each year globally, around 20 million are exported, the UN said.

Of those, it said almost 6 million come from Ecuador, the world’s largest exporter and the country chosen by the Banana Initiative for Occupational Health and Safety – coordinated by the FAO-led World Banana Forum and the non-governmental organizations Solidaridad and Bananalink – as a priority country for the manual’s development.

Given that banana farming is carried out similarly around the world, the UN said the initiative can be adapted and replicated in banana-producing countries from Latin America to Asia and the Pacific, incorporating their own legislation.