EitFood EU

This activity has received funding from EIT Food, the Innovation community on Food of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), a body of the EU, under the horizon 2020, the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation

June 10, 2020 Jane Alice Liu By Jane Alice Liu My Articles

Banana Plantations | 3 Sustainable Practices

Many banana plantations are known for their high water consumption and intensive use of chemical pesticides. But is there a way to produce one of our favourite yellow fruits more sustainably?

Believe it or not, the answer is yes! Here are 3 sustainable practices used by banana producers in the Canary Islands.

1. Biodiverse Soil

Why is biodiverse soil so important? As the Panama Disease is a soil-borne fungus that attacks the roots of the banana plant,1 the more biodiverse the soil is, the more difficult it is for soil diseases to spread. While Panama Disease (Tropical Race 4) is more serious in East Asia, Central America and the Caribbean, it’s well contained in the Canary Islands where the disease is less threatening as a subtropical race.2 So what do banana producers in the Canary Islands do differently? 

Instead of discarding banana plants after their fruit is harvested, Canary Island banana farmers use them to cover the ground of the plantation. The banana plants eventually dry out and break down into organic material that adds to the soil’s biodiversity. Other organic material is also used from around the island, like “pinocha”, or pine leaves.

Fun Fact: Bananas don’t grow on trees. Bananas are basically giant herbs, and its “trunk” is actually leaves tightly bunched together.

2. Drip Irrigation

As bananas consume a lot of water,3 smart irrigation is necessary to make sure water isn’t wasted. In the Canary Islands, banana farmers use a common sustainable water management practice called drip irrigation. It’s exactly as it sounds: water is dripped directly to the plant and its roots. This method of irrigation minimises wasteful water use, while ensuring the plant is given enough water to grow.

3. Biocontrol

Many banana plantations in Latin America use small planes to release chemical pesticides to ward off pests.4 This is often done because the plantation fields are vast, making this the most cost efficient method of pest removal. However, this poses serious health and environmental concerns, as humans and wildlife can be exposed to pesticides through these aerial applications. These chemical pesticides can contaminate land if they leach into the soil, and they can also run off into water streams. 

With tighter chemical legislation in Europe, Canary Island banana farmers are increasingly relying on biocontrol as a way to sustainably get rid of pests. Using the pests’ natural enemies (predators), banana farmers are able to keep pests out of their banana plants while minimising the use of chemical pesticides. Because banana farmers have smaller plantations (below or around 1ha of land), they’re also able to implement such pest management systems more easily. 

It’s important to note that the predators used in Canary Island plantations are native species, and will disappear once their food (the pests) are gone, as the pests are their only food source.

Below you will find a list of pests in Canary Island banana plantations and their natural enemies used as biocontrol:

Pests Predators (Natural Enemies) Alternative Predators
Banana Mealybug Parasitic wasps (Acerophagus artelles) Ladybird larvas (Cryptolaemus monstrouzieri)
White Flies Fungus (Lecanicillium muscarium) Fungus (Verticilium lecanii)
Red Spider Mites Phytoseid mites (Phytoseiulus persimilis), removes pest Predatory mite (Neoseiulus californicus), prevents pest
Banana Weevil Nematode (Steinernema carpocapsae) Fungus (Beauveria bassiana)
Aphids Parasitic Wasp (Aphidius colemani) Midge (Aphidoletes aphidimiza)
Banana Moth Nematode (Steinernema feltiae)
Caterpillar Eggs Parasitic Wasp (Trichogramma achaeae)
Caterpillar Larvae Nematode (Steinernema carpocapsae)
Thrips Predatory mites (Neoseiulus cucumeris)
Panama Disease Fungus (Trichoderma harzianum T22)

What other sustainable practices on banana plantations have you heard of? Let us know in the comments below!

June 10, 2020 Jane Alice Liu By Jane Alice Liu My Articles