Equal Exchange, one of the top importers of Fairtrade organic bananas in the US, has established March as Banana Month as it looks to raise awareness of small-scale bananas farmers.

In a market dominated by plantations and large producers, small-scale organic banana farmers are carving out a unique niche for themselves. Fresh fruit and vegetables are the top category in organic food sales, accounting for 30 per cent of total organic sales in 2015. Likewise, interest in Fairtrade produce is growing – by 25 per cent in 2015 alone.

According to Equal Exchange, small farmers have the power to transform local economies and communities and Fairtrade certification can help this. When farmers organise in to farmer-owned cooperatives, they not only pool resources to negotiate better terms of trade, but more money stays in the community.

“In Piura, the northern region of Peru, there are many distinct groups of small farmers, who on average own less than 3 hectares of land, and are linked to export through the organic banana chain,” said Leticia Gutierrez of CEPIBO Cooperative. “These better economic opportunities have increased the overall level of income, investment in other ventures, access to credit, and resulted in better housing and roads infrastructure.”

In addition to improved contract terms and a better price, Fairtrade certified banana organisations receive a Fairtrade Premium of US$1 per box of bananas sold as Fairtrade.

Each year, cooperative members gather to vote on how to invest the extra funds in social, economic or environmental improvement projects. In 2015, the total premium paid to Fairtrade banana farmers globally was over US$20m.

Banana farmers elected to invest their funds in a wide variety of projects. Over 50 per cent went to improving the cooperative’s business, while another 40 per cent was invested in providing farmers with services and training to improve production processes so they can earn more - the key is that communities democratically decide how to best invest Fairtrade Premium funds, Equal Exchange explained.

This past summer, Equal Exchange brought together the members of an entire banana supply chain – including grocer, distributor and importer – to visit ASOGUABO and see the effects of Fairtrade in person.

“This is what we hope for, that it really elevates society, not just the owner of the farm. That’s what we were there to see,” said Jason Hollinger, general manager of Four Season Produce, a family-owned produce distributor in Pennsylvania.