Bananas are one of the world's largest agricultural trade commodities, and they are grown commercially primarily in tropical regions such as Latin America and West Africa, where rain forest habitats are replaced by single crop banana plantations. Planting bananas in large-scale commercial production involves intensive agricultural chemical use, drainage and erosion problems, and diminishes ecological diversity.
Habitat and Ecological Diversity
Bananas grow best in the same ecological conditions as tropical coastal rain forests, according to Banana Link, a non-profit organization dedicated to fair, ecologically sound banana trade. Expansion of banana plantations therefore comes at the expense of tropical rain forest that must be cleared before banana planting. According to research published by the Pacific Lutheran University, the tropical rain forests that banana plantations displace contain three-quarters of the biological diversity on the planet. Loss of tropical rain forest habitat and diversity by banana plantation displacement has a significant negative environmental impact.
The United Nations Environment Programme acknowledges, in a 2001 Synthesis Report on Economic Reforms, Trade Liberalization and the Environment, that the banana plantations they examined in Ecuador contributed to loss of biodiversity. However, the UNEP reports that it is difficult to determine how much habitat is lost exclusively due to banana plantings, because of other agricultural practices and wood extraction in the rain forests surrounding the banana plantation regions. Additionally, according to UNEP, after a series of environmental, health, and management practices standards for banana production were adopted in the 1990s, banana production increased without additional expansion of acreage in plantations, and with a reduction of planted acreage in some areas.
While hundreds of varieties of bananas are grown in small-scale and home production, only one variety, the Cavendish, is presently grown on a large commercial scale. According to Banana Link, banana trees are propagated vegetatively, which means most of the banana trees in commercial production around the world are genetically identical. Monocropping--growing a single crop repeatedly in the same location-reduces soil fertility, and also sets a ripe stage for rapid spread of devastating fungi, bacteria or insect pests.
Waste and Residual Chemicals
The United Nations Environment Programme reports that creation of toxic chemical waste and non-biodegradable trash is one of banana production's chief negative environmental impacts. The vulnerability of monocropping on a large scale leads banana producers to employ heavy applications of chemical insecticides and fungicides to ensure blemish-free fruit for consumers. According to both Banana Link and the researchers at Pacific Lutheran University, chemical run-off from these applications is deadly to the surrounding environment and aquatic environments downstream.
Modern banana production involves intensive use of plastic netting and wrapping along with chemicals to create blemish-free fruit. Banana Link states that 2 tons of waste is produced for every 1 ton of bananas shipped for sale. UNEP reports that some of these impacts are being reduced as recently adopted environmental regulations begin to take effect.