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Banana plantation
Posted by: HoboSylvain | 2014-04-26 18:58:45 | Los Amates, Izabal, Guatemala
Keywords: fruit, production
On my way to the Quiriguá UNESCO site, I crossed a huge banana plantation. It made the walk under the intense heat much more enjoyable. I took the opportunity to talk with a few workers in the plantation to learn more about the culture of this beloved fruit. This was a sweet bananas plantation, like the 'regular' ones... not the plantain variety. This plantation belongs to one of the three major companies in the banana world, but the only one with two words in its name.

I already had seen banana plantations both in Australia and Mexico, but always from the road; I never had the chance to actually walk in one and touch the banana 'trees' and the fruits still hanging in there. I put 'trees' in quotes because these are not really trees as the apple tree that is there all year long and produces fruits yearly. The banana actually comes from a bulb that generates up to 3 or 4 simultaneous stems, at various growth stages. The major stem (called 'mama' – mother) is the one producing the fruit. Only one group of banana fruits are produced by a given stem. Once the fruits are harvested, the 'mama' stem is cut out to give room and energy to the second largest stem (called daughter). Once this stem has grown and produced its fruits, it will be cut out an another stem from the same bulb will produce fruits, and so on.

Cutout of the stem once discarded.

I was able to picture bananas in various stages of growth (picture on top). As you can see, it originates from a very large flower and there are many rows of fruits issued from that unique flower per stem. It's usual to have between 5 and 9 'rows' of fruits per plant. When they reach a certain point of maturity, the flower is cut out so are the first few bananas closest to it. That gives more energy to the remaining fruits and the ones closest to the flower never grow as big as the other ones anyway, not reaching the size required to be put on the market. You can also see that they grow curling up, not down. That was a surprise to me.

Since they are in a tropical environment, they don't have an annual cycle as apple trees have for example following the seasons. The bananas are harvested all year long. When cruising next to a banana field, you will rarely see the fruits, but they are in the blue bags you see. It's in fact a double-layer of protection. First, the exterior blue bag plays two important roles for the fruit. First, it protects it from insects and other small creatures. The second and just as crucial role is to create a micro-climate inside the bag increasing the temperature and humidity to accelerate the growth of the fruit. Then, there's the inner wrapping of transparent plastic. This is to protect the beauty of the fruit and prevent the end of the fruits to stain or to damage the fruit above. This is purely esthetics and to satisfy the customer who always wants perfect looking fruits (although in this case we don't eat the skin).

Wrapping of the fruits while growing.

The plantation is divided into sectors that are monitored by a group of workers who prune and wrap the fruits in their portion of the field. There's also a group of cutters who move around the plantation as a team to cut out all the matured enough fruits. They cut the stem about a foot (30 cm) above the first fruits to be able to have grip to handle the whole thing. They place it on a hook over a carrier that is pulled by a wheeled mini-tractor on a monorail circling the plantation. At some point, that hauler has to cross the access road to the plant and it yields for a funny sight of banana crossing.

Banana crossing

Once at the processing plan, the fruits are washed, sorted and analyzed before they are stacked in large trucks to be shipped. Of course, they are harvested way before they are yellow and ready to be eaten... they will finish their maturation during the transportation in order to be fresh for the customer. It will take 1 to 2 weeks to hit the shelves, depending on the shipping destination. When the fruits are to be shipped very far away, they are harvested earlier to hit the shelves at about the same age as the ones sold close-by. So, if you buy a fruit produced in Guatemala produced by that company in at least 2 or 3 weeks, it's possible your fruit is on one of my pictures. You can recognize it... it smiled curving its face for the picture. :-)


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