The Banana File Part V:The Toxins and Chemicals used

Chiquita SECRETS Revealed; Environment; Unregistered toxins used
despite claims

Publication: Cincinnati Enquirer
Date: May 3, 1998

Chiquita’s environmental partner, the Rainforest Alliance, claims
that Chiquita’s “Better Banana” certified farms “only use products
that are registered for use in the United States, Canada and
Europe,” according to the alliance’s “General Production Standards”
and agreed to by Chiquita.

But the Enquirer found that Chiquita systematically uses chemical
products on its certified farms that are not registered for use,
meaning they are not allowed to be used, in the United States,
Canada or one or more countries of the European Union.

These pesticides include:

Bitertanol, sold as Baycor: In documents provided to the Enquirer,
Chiquita stated that it has used this product since 1993. According
to documents provided to the Enquirer by the manufacturer – the
Bayer Corporation – the pesticide is not, and never has been,
registered for use in the United States. U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) spokesman Albert Heier confirmed that
bitertanol is not approved for use in the United States on bananas
or any other crop. The pesticides’ full impact on people or the
environment is not known at this time because the EPA has not
conducted tests on the product, Mr.

Heier said.

In a statement issued to the Enquirer through its attorneys,
Chiquita stated that company policy “allows only for the use of
agrichemicals that are approved by the United States Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) for use on bananas.”

Denise Kearns, spokesperson for the EPA on pesticide issues, said
that the EPA has set a “tolerance level” for bitertanol, that is the
level of detectable pesticide residue at which the EPA will allow a
crop to be imported into the United States. But this level, set
after scientific review, does not constitute approval for use in the
U.S. on bananas or any other crop, Ms. Kearns said.

Bitertanol also is not registered for use in Canada, according to
Antony Simpson, spokesman for Health Canada’s Pest Management
Regulatory Agency, the Canadian government’s counterpart to the
EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs. The pesticide is approved for
use in the European Union.

Chlorpyrifos, sold as Lorsban. This product is widely used by
Chiquita to put in plastic bags that hang over the banana bunches as
they grow. It is registered for use in the United States. However,
the EPA is reviewing safety levels for all organophosphate
compounds, and chlorpyrifos is one product that could be severely
restricted because of health and environmental risks, according to
published reports by the Washington State Department of Agriculture.
Last year, the EPA declared chlorpyrifos as a “Restricted Use
Product,” a restriction allowing for use only under special
circumstances with specific EPA approval.

Chlorpyrifos is not authorized for use in Finland and Sweden,
according to European Union government reports.

Carbofuran, sold as Furadan: This pesticide is used to combat
nematodes, small worms that attack the banana plants. Chiquita has
used the product since 1975. The product is listed by the EPA as
“severely restricted” in the United States. According to EPA
documents, the product’s high risk of danger to people and the
environment make it “a pesticide for which virtually all registered
uses have been prohibited by final government regulatory action,”
but it can still be used in some special cases. The product also is
severely restricted in Canada, according to Health Canada. Its use
is not authorized in Finland.

Ethoprop, sold as Mocap: This organophosphate also is registered for
use in the United States but is being reviewed by EPA. Like
chlorpyrifos it has been singled out as facing severe restrictions,
according to the Washington State Department of Agriculture.
Ethoprop is not registered for use in Canada, according to Health
Canada. It is not authorized for use in Finland, Sweden, Denmark and
Luxembourg, according to European Union government reports.

Terbufos, sold as Counter: This product is registered for use in the
U.S., but it is being reviewed by EPA for possible restrictions. It
is not authorized for use in Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Ireland, the
United Kingdom and Portugal according to European Union government

Azoxystrobin, sold as Bankit: This fungicide used in aerial spraying
is not registered for use in Canada, according to Health Canada.

Imazalil, sold as Fungaflor: This fungacide, applied to bananas
before shipment, is not registered for use in Canada, according to
Health Canada.

Tridemorph, sold as Calixin: This fungicide used in aerial spraying
is not registered for use in Canada, according to Health Canada. It
is not authorized for use in Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Portugal.

Where chemicals are approved for use

Chiquita’s environmental partner, the Rainforest Alliance, has
regulations to which Chiquita has agreed that state the company
cannot use chemicals on its alliance certified banana farms that are
not authorized for use in the U.S., Canada and Europe. But according
to Chiquita’s own list of approved pesticides, it does.

Chemicals: Azoxystrobin

Sold as: Bankit

Type: Fungicide

Used for: Black Sigatoka

Authorized for use in:

U.S.: Yes

Canada: No

European Union*: Unknown

Chemicals: Bitertanol

Sold as: Baycor

Type: Fungicide

Used for: Black Sigatoka

Authorized for use in:

U.S.: No

Canada: No

European Union*: Yes

Chemicals: Carbofuran

Sold as: Furadan

Type: Nematicide

Used for: Nematodes

Authorized for use in:

U.S.: Yes

Canada: Yes

European Union*: No

Chemicals: Chlorpyrifos

Sold as: Lorsban

Type: Insecticide

Used for: Insects

Authorized for use in:

U.S.: Yes

Canada: Yes

European Union*: No

Chemicals: Ethoprop

Sold as: Mocap

Type: Nematicide

Used for: Nematodes

Authorized for use in:

U.S.: Yes

Canada: No

European Union*: No

Chemicals: Imazalil

Sold as: Fungaflor

Type: Fungaflor

Used for: Crown Rot organisms

Authorized for use in:

U.S.: Yes

Canada: No

European Union*: Yes

Chemicals: Terbufos

Sold as: Counter

Type: Nematicide

Used for: Nematodes

Authorized for use in:

U.S.: Yes

Canada: Yes

European Union*: No

Chemicals: Tridemorph

Sold as: Calixin

Type: Fungicide

Used for: Black Sigatoka

Authorized for use in:

U.S.: Yes

Canada: No

European Union*: No

* A “no” in this column means that one or more of the 15 nations of
the European Union do not authorize the use of this chemical on its

Sources: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Health Canada and
European Union reports.

(Copyright 1998)

Chiquita SECRETS Revealed; Environment; Workers sprayed in the

Publication: Cincinnati Enquirer
Date: May 3, 1998

In the fiercely competitive banana trade, Chiquita Brands has made a
strong effort to set itself apart as the industry’s “environmental

Chiquita’s brochures, posters and company website proudly trumpet
its partnership with the Rainforest Alliance, a New York-based
environmental group known worldwide for setting up environmental –
business partnerships.

Since 1993, the two have worked on the “ECO-O.K. – Better Banana”
program, an environmental certification to assure protection for
workers and the environment on Costa Rican farms of Chiquita’s
subsidiaries, Compania Bananera Atlantica Ltda. (COBAL) and the
Chiriqui Land Company. The program, originally called “ECO-O.K.” but
later changed to “Better Banana,” has since expanded to Chiquita
subsidiary farms in Panama and Colombia.

But an Enquirer investigation into Chiquita’s use of pesticides on
plantations shows disregard not only of the company’s stated
environmental guidelines and partnership agreements with the
alliance, but also the safety of its tens of thousands of field

The Enquirer found:

Aerial spraying when workers are in the fields, is a practice
condemned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),
scientists and even Chiquita’s environmental partner, the Rainforest
Alliance. The spraying violates the rules of the “Better Banana”

The Rainforest Alliance’s policy paper on the “Better Banana”
program states, “All workers and neighbors must be warned when
pesticides are being applied.” According to the program’s general
regulations, workers and neighbors are not supposed to be exposed to
aerial spraying.

Chiquita’s subsidiaries use pesticides in Latin America that are not
registered for use in the United States, Canada or Europe. They do
so even though Chiquita has issued public statements and agreed to
an environmental contract with the Rainforest Alliance that on its
farms certified by the alliance it will “only use products that are
registered for use in the United States, Canada and Europe.”

Chiquita subsidiary farms use pesticides in aerial spraying that are
highly toxic to fish and birds, contrary to Chiquita’s stated
environmental policies.

These findings come as the “Better Banana” project is under
criticism from scientists in Central America, Europe and the United
States. Chiquita’s showcase environmental program has been attacked
as disingenuous, superficial and unverifiable.

“The changes are more aesthetic than anything else,” said Catharina
Wesseling, a scientist with the Karolinska Institute of
Environmental Medicine in Stockholm, Sweden, and author of the book
Health Effects from Pesticide Use in Costa Rica. “They don’t address
the real problems.”

However, an executive of a Washington, D.C. – based conservation
group, Conservation International hired by Chiquita to visit its
certified subsidiary farms called the project “very positive.”

Scientists critical of the program say it doesn’t adequately address
a problem that the entire banana industry has been wrestling with
for decades: use of pesticides that endanger the health of workers,
villagers or the environment in Latin America.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is responsible for
checking pesticide levels on bananas imported for American
consumers, said the overwhelming majority of bananas brought into
the United States and tested by the administration show pesticide
residue well within safety standards set by EPA. However,
scientists and environmentalists said the methods and amount of
pesticide use practiced by Chiquita and other large banana growers
endangers banana workers and the environment where the bananas are

Aerial spraying

Chiquita’s “Environmental Charter” states that the company works “to
protect the rainforest; to maintain clean water; to minimize the use
of agrochemicals; to reduce, re-use and recycle waste; to support
environmental education; and to ensure our workforce is well-trained
and works safely.” Those guidelines also are supported by the
Rainforest Alliance.

But the Enquirer has found that Chiquita subsidiaries have sprayed
toxic cocktails, varying mixtures of potent chemicals, on their
plantations without removing workers first. These aerial sprayings
can take place more than 40 times a year on plantations that are
threatened by a widespread banana disease. Often these pesticides
fall on workers, nearby villages, rivers or forests.

Eric Holst, coordinator for the Rainforest Alliance’s “Better
Banana” certification program in New York, said that aerial spraying
while workers are in the fields would be a violation of the
certification program. “We require that workers have protection from
the application of chemicals. That clearly is a violation.”

Through its attorneys, Chiquita provided the Enquirer with a list of
chemicals it has approved for use on its banana farms. For aerial
spraying, the company uses the fungicides propiconazole, benomyl,
mancozeb, azoxystrobin, thiophanate-methyl, tridemorph and

Propiconazole and benomyl have both been found to be possibly
cancer-causing for humans by the EPA. Mancozeb, azoxystrobin,
thiophanate-methyl and tridemorph are considered hazards to fish by
the EPA. Bitertanol is not allowed for use on farms in the United
States, while azoxystrobin and tridemorph are not allowed for use in

A source at Chiquita’s headquarters in Cincinnati provided the
Enquirer with tape recordings of internal voice-mail messages,
several of which dealt with the issue of aerial spraying while
workers are in the fields.

After the Enquirer asked Chiquita’s attorneys and a Rainforest
Alliance official about the company’s aerial spraying policy, Robert
Kistinger, president of Chiquita Banana Group based in Cincinnati,
said in an Oct. 29, 1997 voice-mail message to John Ordman,
Chiquita’s senior vice president of finance, that he wanted
officials to figure out “how quickly we can begin to implement a
procedure for taking our workers out of the fields when we spray …
It is something we have to think about getting done fairly quickly.”

For workers, the unannounced aerial spraying is a constant fear.

“Some of the workers are affected by the aerial spraying, especially
with rashes,” Luis Perez Jimenez, 31, a leaf cutter on COBAL’s
Cocobola plantation, said through a translator. “They never tell us
about the aerial spraying. We just see it coming and boom, it’s

Small crop dusters will fly low over the banana trees and emit
clouds of pesticides that settle over the tall, leafy plants. They
also settle on workers, nearby villagers, animals, and open water.
As two Enquirer reporters witnessed, on recently sprayed farms the
air is heavy with a stifling chemical stench. Breathing is difficult
and the pesticide residue covers everything.

At Cocobola, one of COBAL’s larger farms, and nearby COBAL’s Gavilan
farm hundreds of employees can be working in the fields at any one
time. The plantation, laced with irrigation canals, is adjacent to
Rio Sucio, a large river in northeast Costa Rica.

Mr. Perez, through a translator, said that a white film gets all
over his clothes and body when spraying occurs.

“I don’t get any protective clothing,” said Mr. Perez, whose job is
to cut diseased leaves from plants. “The white stuff gets all over
my arms and on my clothes. I get a lot of rashes.”

Jose Gomez, 45, another worker on the Cocobola plantation, also said
the planes come over with no warning.

“You’re just working and then suddenly you see it coming,” he told
the Enquirer as he stood amid lush rows of banana plants. “I try to
hide under the banana leaves when I hear the planes. If the
chemicals get on me, I get rashes on my back. I try to be careful
when the planes come. I try to protect myself under these leaves.”

Mr. Gomez, through a translator, said that he was afraid of the
long-term impact of the pesticides on his health, but this job was
the only work he could find in the region.

Under the “Better Banana” certification program touted by Chiquita,
workers who apply pesticides with spray packs are supplied with
protective clothing and training on how to handle pesticides. But
thousands of other field workers like Mr. Gomez, who do not apply
pesticides, receive no protective clothing. Enquirer reporters
observed, and were told by workers, union leaders and company
officials, that field workers not directly involved in the
application or storage of pesticides do not receive protective

Speaking of the industry-wide problem of aerial spraying on banana
workers, Sandra Marquardt, an environmental consultant in San
Francisco who formerly headed up Greenpeace International’s efforts
to stop the U.S. export of banned pesticides, said, “These airplanes
come over and just nail the suckers.”

Dole and Del Monte, the two other large U.S. banana companies, also
employ aerial spraying. But neither has joined the “Better Banana”
program or publicly acknowledged any alliance with an environmental
group claiming to limit workers’ exposure to pesticides.

In response to Enquirer questions, Chiquita, through its attorneys,
issued a three-page statement on aerial spraying but did not address
the issue of workers being sprayed in the fields.

The company stated that the spraying was necessary to combat a
banana disease called Black Sigatoka.The airborne fungus causes
streaks on the plants, makes the fruit smaller and eventually kills
the plant if unchecked.

The attorneys said the company has hired environmental consulting
groups to conduct water monitoring of nearby rivers, and those
groups have found almost no contamination.

Despite the concerns ex-pressed by Mr. Kistinger in his October
voice-mail message, aerial spraying of fields while workers were in
them was still going on four months later.

In a Feb. 23 voice-mail message to Mr. Ordman, Mr. Kistinger
pointed out the company’s political and public relations problem
with continuing aerial spraying while workers are in the fields.

“One of the key focuses that we have not been successful so far …
has been the issue of aerial spraying,” Mr. Kistinger said. “The
environmental groups, the social groups, the NGO (non-governmental
organizations) say it is not right to be spraying people when they
are working in the field. … And so far we have been able to make
very little progress in this regard.”

Prodding his executives to develop an alternative to spraying
workers, Mr. Kistinger added that there is “enormous build-up of
pressure” from the public in Europe to protect banana workers.
Noting that steps must be taken to curb the practice, “even if
they’re small at this point” it is “very necessary to do from a
public relations’ standpoint.”

Chiquita recently has created an “environmental” website on which it
has posted a position paper on aerial spraying. On the website,
Chiquita states that spraying is necessary to protect the banana
crop. But the company stated it is working on several methods of
applying the pesticides from the ground, which it claims would
reduce pesticide exposure to workers and the environment.

Earth College science professor Jorge Arce Portuguez said Sigatoka
has become the major pest threatening the banana industry in recent
years. Earth College is an agricultural science college in central
Costa Rica partially funded by the U.S. government and supported by
dozens of major American universities. The industry’s only answer so
far has been to increase the potency and regularity of aerial
spraying, he said. But the disease has adapted quickly, becoming
resistant to many of the chemicals.

“In 1990, we controlled Sigatoka with more or less 25 to 30 aerial
sprayings per year,” he said. “Now, seven years later … we are
dropping by plane more than 40 times per year.”

Anti-Sigatoka chemicals make up the bulk of pesticides used on most
banana plantations, according to Lori Ann Thrupp, senior associate
and expert on sustainable agriculture at the World Resources
Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank on environmental

Drifting pesticides

In a 1996 edition of the science journal Ambio, Scott Witter,
associate professor at Michigan State University’s Institute of
International Agriculture, and colleague Carlos Hernandez published
a report on the Costa Rican banana industry that found that 15
percent of aerial pesticides completely drifted off the studied
plantations because of wind; 40 percent drifted away from the plants
and into the ground; and 35 percent washed off in the rain. Only 10
percent of the fungicide sprayed actually stayed on the plant.

“There’s considerable debate about how much drift there is,”
Professor Witter told the Enquirer. “We had in that article
references for as much as 90 percent of it not ending up on the
banana plants. Some of the transnationals say ‘no, no, it’s more
like only 40 percent that’s lost.’ But still that’s a lot of
fungicides going off into the water supply. You have a lot of the
poor folks who take their water directly from surface sources. They
end up ingesting these. Costa Rica is blessed with a tremendous
amount of rainfall, and so dilution in many instances becomes a
solution to some of the pollution.

But over time, it does tend to bio-accumulate.”

In a statement issued through its attorneys, Chiquita stated that it
is aware of the drift problem and has worked in recent years to
reduce drift by installing special pesticide spray nozzles on its
airplanes and other measures.

In the village of Bananito Norte, in the heart of banana country
southeast of the coastal city of Limon, Esther Rodriguez Anchia
lives with her husband and three children in a one-room wooden shack
next to Chiquita’s Super Amigo packing plant and Chiquita subsidiary

When the crop dusters come over, her family is sprayed with the
chemicals, she said.

“There is no warning,” Mrs. Rodriguez said through a translator.

“It just comes, usually once a week but sometimes twice. My children
get very rashy when the planes come. I just have them run inside,
but we usually are stuck with the rashes. I’m very allergic myself,
so it’s much worse for me. I have to visit the doctor all the
time.,” she said.

Mrs. Rodriguez, 52, said the aerial spraying has made her hate the

“I would love to fly away from here,” she said.

(Copyright 1998)

Chiquita SECRETS Revealed; Life on a banana plantation; Growing
Chiquita bananas: pesticides and hard work

Publication: Cincinnati Enquirer
Date: May 3, 1998
By: Cameron McWhirter and Mike Gallagher

On farms from Mexico to Ecuador, Chiquita and its affiliates grow
millions of bananas every year for consumers in North America and
Europe. The fruit is grown and harvested in a labor-intensive
process that involves an army of workers, lots of equipment,
crop-dusting airplanes, foam cushions, string, bags, special
cartons, refrigerated trucks and trains, and tons of pesticides.

While production methods vary slightly from plantation to
plantation, the basic operations illustrated below remain the same.
This illustration is a composite plantation, drawn from Enquirer
reporters’ visits to Chiquita subsidiary plantations and Chiquita-
affiliated farms in Honduras and Costa Rica, as well as interviews
with plantation workers and environmental scientists.

1. Commercial banana plants grow from 15 to 30 feet in height and
are grown in long rows on large irrigated plantations. Most bananas
consumed in the United States are grown in the lowlands of Central
and South America. The average banana plant produces fruit about
every nine months. The stem usually grows to contain about 150
bananas. When the manager decides, the fruit is cut green from the
plant and dropped carefully on the back of a worker carrying a
cushion to stop any bruising of the fruit.

2. Herbicides: To kill off other plants growing around the bananas,
workers apply herbicides. The chemicals are toxic and wash into the
ground and ground water during rains.

3. Nematicides: To kill off nematodes, small worms that attack
banana plants from the roots, workers cover the ground around the
plants with nematicides. These chemicals are highly toxic and make
an area extremely dangerous for 24 to 48 hours after application.

4. Banana plants do not have strong trunks, they can easily be
knocked over in a tropical windstorm. To prevent ‘blowdowns,’
workers tie the plants down with string.

5. Aerial spraying is an integral part of pesticide application in
commercial banana farming. The main purpose is to combat Black
Sigatoka, an airborne fungus that can destroy a plantation’s crop.
In areas that are infected with the fungus, including much of
Central America, airplanes may spray fields more than 40 times a

The spray lands on the plants’ upper leaves, the ground, irrigation
canals, streams and rivers and nearby homes, workers and residents,
scientists told the Enquirer.

Workers on Chiquita subsidiary plantations and other farms producing
Chiquita bananas told the Enquirer that they receive no warning when
the planes come over and they often hide under banana leaves to
escape the pesticide dust. Nearby villagers complain the aerial
spraying often drifts into their yards, sending children running
into the houses to escape rashes. Many worker villages are located
close to banana plantations.

6. The water used in the in the packing plants to wash pesticides
off the bananas comes from the irrigation canals and then is routed
back out into the water supply. Chiquita has built berms in recent
years on some plantations to limit pesticides from flowing directly
into rivers. But many irrigation canals, laced throughout every
plantation, remain directly exposed to pesticides.

7. Plastic bags imbedded with the powerful chemical chlorpyrifos
protect the the growing fruit from insects throughout its entire
gestation. In previous years,the bags were simply discarded after
use, though the major banana companies have now started recycling

8. At harvesting, the stem is placed on a large overhead cable
system that runs throughout the plantation. Workers place foam
cushions among the fruit to stop bruising. The fruit is then pushed
along the cable toward the “Empacadora,” the packing plant.

9. In the packing plant, workers remove the cushions. Other workers
then cut the stems into smaller bunches.

10. The bunchesare then put in a “pila de seleccion,” a selecting
trough, where selectoras, usually women, choose the bananas and cut
them further down to shipping size with small hooked knives.

11. Larger troughs called ‘pilas des leches,” milk troughs, wash off
the pesticides applied in the fields as well as natural fluids from
the banana plant.

12. New pesticides are applied to the bunches after they are placed
on a conveyer belt. The new pesticides, either thiabendazole or
imazalil, are applied to prevent “crown rot,” a fungus that attacks
the extremities of the banana bunch. On some plantations, Chiquita
has installed small plastic containment systems that save money on
pesticide costs and reduce worker exposure to the pesticides. But
most plantations do not have this system, according to Chiquita
statements issued through its attorneys to the Enquirer.

13. Boxes of banana bunches, freshly applied with pesticides, are
put on large skids for shipment. On all the plantations visited by
the Enquirer, most workers viewed by reporters did not wear gloves
when handling the pesticide-covered bananas.

14. Trucks or trains are brought to the plant and loaded with the
skids. The bananas are taken to port, where the large refrigerated
containers are lifted onto ships. The ships then sail to various
destinations, usually in North America or Europe. About ten days to
two weeks after being harvested, the bananas are on display and for
sale at local groceries.

Pesticides in the banana ecosystem

The ecosytem of a banana plantation is extremely wet and hot. The
soil is very loose, helping the banana plants grow but also making
it easy for pesticides to spread throughout the system.

It often rains in these areas, flushing pesticides into the ground
and water table. The banana industry’s answer to this dissipation
has been to apply pesticides frequently.

Ways pesticides get into the environment:

Air: Airplanes drop toxic chemicals regularly from the air.
Pesticides fall on the plants, but also on workers, the ground and
irrigation canals and streams.

Ground: Workers apply pesticides to the ground around the plants.
These chemicals seep into the ground with every rainfall.

Water: Pesticides also get into water that is used to wash bananas
in the packing plants. That water then flows back into the
irrigation canals.

Bags: Plastic bags with the insecicide chlorpyrifos cover all the
banana bunches from their inception. The chemical leaks off the bags
in rain storms and flows into the ground and water.

Black Sigatoka

is a banana plant disease that plagues most areas where Chiquita
bananas are produced. The airborne fungus eats away at the plant
leaves, turning them black. The disease shrinks the size of the frui
and makes it ripen too quickly to be shipped to market. Eventually,
the disease kills the plant. Some researchers are now trying to find
a Sigatoka resistant banana that will still appeal to consumers,
but nothing has been discovered thus far. To date, the industry’s
reaction to the problem has been to increase aerial spraying of
powerful pesticides.

The roots of the banana

Humans have been cultivating bananas since almost the beginning of
civilization. Varieties of the plant are referred to in ancient
Chinese and Arabic manuscripts.

Believed by scientists to have developed in southeast Asia more than
4,000 years ago, the plant eventually spread to other parts of Asia
and into Africa. The species’ scientific classification, Musaceae,
comes from the Arabic word for the fruit, mu’uz. Spanish and
Portuguese explorers are believed to have come into contact with the
plant in their travels to West Africa, where they adopted a
variation of a local term, banana. Spanish explorers brought bananas
to the Americas in the 1500s.

Today hundreds of banana varieties thrive in almost every tropical
region of the world. But more than 90 percent of the bananas found
at grocery stores in the United States and Europe are one variety,
the yellow Gran Cavendish. The banana is one of the most productive
plants in the world. In the right climate and weather it produces
year round, and for decades at a time.

The plant itself is actually an herb. What looks like a trunk of a
banana “tree” is in fact densely packed leaves growing up from a
base clump of roots. The plants that produce commercial Gran
Cavendish bananas do not produce seeds for reproduction, and are
‘sexless’ perennials. Planted in rows on giant farms, they
regenerate after each harvest. The plant grows a stalk, called in
Latin America “la Madre” or the mother, which produces a purple stem
with white flowers from its center. The stem transforms into a large
‘hand’ of as many as 150 bananas each. The “hand,” which eventually
bends over from the weight of the fruit, can weigh up to 140 pounds.

The fruit is harvested before it is ripe, and cut into the bunches
that are transported to grocery stands. Once the fruit is harvested,
the stalk is cut and a little stalk , called “el hijo” or
“offspring” in Spanish, sprouts from the same root to begin the
process again. Bananas are comprised mostly of sugary carbohydrates,
but it is also a source of vitamins A and C as well as potassium.

(Copyright 1998)


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