Would you grow bananas here?
Thought not. But amazingly, this is the scene of a booming organic banana business which is competing with the Dominican Republic to deliver organic bananas to environmentally conscientious consumers in Europe and the US. In a visit to Piura, Peru, I was told that this is now a US$50 million dollar endeavor, and it is smallholders who are benefitting from this – farm sizes are 0.5 Hectares to 3 Hectares on the whole. Historically, this region has been a hotspot of poverty in Latin America. The natural resource base is practically non-existent, and at least for agriculture there weren’t many options with just 60mm of rainfall falling every year. But the one thing that Piura does have is a river, and the vast water-way that flows through this desert in northern Peru comes from the mountains where rain is falling on the steep Andean slopes. Which brings me back to the bananas. Banana producers flood their fields with water from the River Chiura and River Piura as many as three times a month, and so it doesn’t matter that it doesn’t rain. The other massive advantage that this region has is that there are practically no banana pests or diseases. Black leaf streak (sigatoka negra), a fungus which attacks banana leaves in practically every other corner of the continent costing farmers their profit margins through expensive management, simply does not exist in Piura. So bananas are booming in northern Peru. I can tell you, it was really fascinating to see all this.
But let me get to the point of why I was actually here in Piura. I attended the first Latin American Congress on Banana and Plantain, delivering a keynote speech on, you guessed it, climate change. Over the years DAPA has actually done quite a bit of work on bananas, and so I presented our research on the impacts of climate change on banana production across the continent. Sub-tropical banana growing regions, such as southern Brazil, are set to benefit from the raised temperatures, but many other regions encounter difficulties with high temperatures, less rainfall (especially in Central America and the Caribbean) and shifting pest and disease vectors. It’s also worth noting that the banana sector could do a lot to clean up its act. Chemicals and fertilizers are used willy-nilly, some of which contribute to the problem of climate change in the first place.
So what about Piura? For starters it is organic, and so agricultural emissions from this region are likely very low. Let that be a lesson for other regions. And it seems unlikely that climate change will spoil the pest-free party that Piura enjoys right now. But the water is the motor behind this revolution, and that’s where they may need to be careful. The low rainfall in northern Peru this year, thanks to La Niña, meant that farmers for the first time were seeing river levels drop off and endanger irrigation schemes. Conversely, El Niño cycles cause heavy rains that wash away infrastructure and cause heavy soil erosion. Adaptation should start by looking at sustainable means of managing the irrigation waters, and look to invest in better infrastructure, and improve irrigation practices. Researchers could also help out by better understanding the hydrology of these catchments. How will climate change affect discharge? But as I stated in the presentation, the party is unlikely to end soon – Piura is booming and climate change is unlikely to spoil things for a few years to come.
As always, the presentation is found below, and you might also check out other banana related presentations on our slideshare account.