A must read: Achieving Sustainable Cultivation of Bananas

Bananas are the world’s most exported and valuable fruit, with more than 100 billion consumed annually. Over 400 million people rely on bananas as a staple food or as a source of income as a cash crop, most notably in the low-income food-deficit countries.

Banana consumption continues to grow, due to rising populations in developing countries, and an increasing demand for the product in western markets. But this fast production expansion has also increased expected quality standards, which are a significant barrier for accessing profitable markets.

The ripening process plays an important part in quality assurance, but it is not an easy task. Retailers frequently demand that their fruit is supplied in exact volumes with an exact grade of ripeness. Many producers, retail purchasers, and consumers mistakenly believe that green bananas have a longer shelf life, leading them to prefer to dispatch or to order green bananas.

One of the persistent challenges is that access to technical information is limited, especially for growers, and having the right information is key: “Banana ripening begins in the country of origin. A grower who is ignorant of the stages of the ripening process will not be successful in ripening aesthetically pleasing bananas with a good taste and shelf life” says Frits Popma, a fruit logistics expert and global advisor, in his recently published chapter “Ripening systems for bananas” from the book “Achieving Sustainable Cultivation of Bananas” (2018).

Popma provides a comprehensive overview of the key considerations for building successful ripening programs, which are especially important for developing countries. These include:

  • Ripening takes place at a temperature range of 14.5ºC to 20ºC, with cycles of four to eight days. The need to prolong the process depends on the product quality on arrival.
  • Bananas should be pre-cooled as soon as possible, within 24-48 hours, to an ideal temperature of 13ºC. Without proper pre-cooling, the result will be high pulp temperature and weight loss.
  • Bananas should then be placed in heated rooms until the pulp temperature is above 14ºC. This equalization period allows a correct pulp temperature for gasification (14.5ºC – 15ºC) when ripening starts.
  • During gasification, doors should be automatically closed off for a period of 24 hours. After this, the room must have ventilation cycles of 30 minutes.
  • Forced air systems such as tarp systems (air blown from an evaporator at the back of the room and use of a tarpaulin for covering the top of the boxes) and reversible airflow technologies provide uniform temperature and reduce energy consumption.
  • At least six rooms, each able to fit 20 pallets, are necessary for a viable commercial ripening enterprise. Cooling may come from a central cooling system or on an individual room basis.
  • Pre-fab solutions can provide good ripening results, as the equipment is more portable, making it easier if a company needs to relocate.

Frits Popma is from the Netherlands and has more than 27 years of experience in the banana supply chain, with important players such as Chiquita. He founded Popma Fruit Expertise (www.popmafruitexpertise.nl), a consulting company specializing in the banana supply chain, who provide technical expertise to banana producers, traders and technology providers, as he does with InspiraFarms.

The book “Achieving Sustainable Cultivation of Bananas” covers all aspects of banana production and commercialization, from an overview of challenges in banana production, to cultivation practices across the banana value chain, and key advice for improving sustainable banana production. The book is designed to be a practical guide and an important addition to the technical library of banana farmers and all those involved with the production and sale of bananas.

The book can be purchased here: https://shop.bdspublishing.com/store/bds/detail/workgroup/3-190-55859. 

For InspiraFarms community members there is a special discount. The code INSPIRA will give a 20% discount on the list price of the book when entered at checkout.


Book reference: Kema, G. and Drenth, A. (ed.), Achieving sustainable cultivation of bananas: Cultivation techniques, Burleigh Dodds Science Publishing, Cambridge, UK (ISBN: 978 1 78676 156 9; www.bdspublishing.com)