The South American country is the world's largest banana exporter, but the sector has been hammered hard by Russia's military campaign in Ukraine.

The conflict has put the brakes on production in El Triunfo, close to Guayaquil, the site of Ecuador's main port.
The conflict has put the brakes on production in El Triunfo, close to Guayaquil, the site of Ecuador's main port. (AFP)

Until recently, the incessant bustle of Ecuadoran banana plantations provided evidence of the industry's robust export business. But from one week to the next, the groves have fallen silent –– trade victims to a conflict half a world away.

Ecuador is the world's largest banana exporter, but the sector has been hammered by the conflict in Ukraine. Now, with nowhere to send them, containers of the rotting fruit are piling up not far from where they were originally harvested.

"One in every five bananas produced in Ecuador goes to Ukraine and Russia," said Franklin Torres, president of Ecuador's FENABE banana producers federation. "This war really affected us in that sense."

The vast majority of that portion goes to Russia, where banana sales are worth $698 million a year to Ecuador, which usually sends almost two million boxes of bananas a week to the eastern European neighbours.

But due to international transport sanctions over its assault on Ukraine, Russia is not receiving its cargos of bananas.

The conflict has put the brakes on production in El Triunfo, close to Guayaquil, the site of Ecuador's main port.

"The banana producers are finished, I have not processed a single box for three weeks," said Mireya Carrera, 62, the owner of the Thalia banana plantation.

Banana farmers demand the government to declare an emergency in the sector since it is suffering losses in exports due to the war between Russia and Ukraine, in Guayaquil, Ecuador, on March 28, 2022.
Banana farmers demand the government to declare an emergency in the sector since it is suffering losses in exports due to the war between Russia and Ukraine, in Guayaquil, Ecuador, on March 28, 2022. (AFP)

'Price crisis'

The industry had already been hit by falling prices.

Torres said it costs $5.50 to produce a box of bananas, and even though the internal sales price is $6.25, "right now we're receiving less than $2 for each box of bananas, we're receiving $1 or $1.20.

"Truly it's an insult to any type of business. What we're receiving is shameful and it's not even worth picking them."

He said the industry has lost "more than $10 million in three weeks."

Seeing Ecuador's surplus of bananas, other markets "have started reducing their price offers," said Richard Salazar, president of the ACORBANEC association for banana commercialization and export.

According to Jose Antonio Hidalgo, director of the AEBE association of banana exporters, within a week of the offensive starting, the bananas destined for Russia and Ukraine needed a new market, "causing a price crisis."

Around a million boxes have remained unsold in the last month.

Ecuador has 160,000 hectares of banana plantations that in 2021 generated almost $3.5 billion in sales around the world. The South American country has more than 260 banana exporters.

Unrealistic utopia

The banana industry generates 50,000 direct jobs and 250,000 indirect ones in Ecuador.

The offensive in Ukraine has already cost around 6,000 permanent employees their jobs, according to ACORBANEC.

Banana producers, who protested in Guayaquil last week, want the government to help them out by buying their fruit for its food programmes.

President Guillermo Lasso said that "is not realistic. We need to place them in other markets in the world."

But for Salazar, "Putting them in other markets is utopian. There's no other market in the world that can buy as much as Russia," he said.

Source: AFP