A five year CFC project on developing a banana export sector in Ethiopia and Sudan has been completed. And successfully put both countries on the map as banana exporting countries.
Sudan and Ethiopia have recently been diversifying from traditional agricultural commodity exports to include higher-value horticultural crops, including fruit. The organic sector is the fastest-growing segment of the global banana market, and in response to several constraints, the global industry seeks new sources of supply. Ethiopia and Sudan have great potential to meet this demand, with large areas of farmland providing excellent preconditions for expanding organic banana production, and they are well-positioned for Middle Eastern, North African and European markets. The Common Fund for Commodities recently completed implementation of the project “Promotion of Exports of Organic Bananas from Ethiopia and Sudan”. Project Completion Report
A key project outcome is that Sudan is now exporting bananas for the first time ever. It also seems these exports are sustainable and can expand. Similarly the banana export sector in Ethiopia has been revitalized through project activities, with first exports since four decades. In both countries, new banana varieties were introduced as tissue-cultured planting material. Many participating farmers then substantially increased plant numbers, and also distributed material to other growers. In Sudan new tissue-culture cultivars continue to be imported and tested. For local markets some Sudanese traders now maintain fruit quality with reusable plastic crates for transporting banana hands, rather than whole bunches. This lessens damage and makes ripening easier, reducing losses from a typical 40% to around 10%. Another innovation was using simple, portable processing and packing stations to improve efficiency. Several stations have since been manufactured and these move to the plantations ready for harvest, instead of transporting the bananas for processing and packing to a central packing station. An export manual for Sudan, a planting materials guide and a number of Arabic-language posters and leaflets on various production and post-harvest aspects have been distributed Technical Guide for the Production of Export Bananas in Sudan. Export-oriented training in Sudan (2008), and a study visit to Peru (2012), helped further in promoting exports.
Between 2009 and 2012 annual exports increased by an average 53%. In 2012 almost 6,000 tonnes were exported, worth over US$1.8 million. More regular and consistent exports suggest continuity, although still relatively small volumes. New markets (Lebanon, Egypt) are starting to be served, and Sudan now seemingly supplies about 15% of the Jordanian market. In Ethiopia, early in 2012, the first banana exports for decades went beyond Djibouti, with an initial shipment to a trader in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Subsequently, a second Saudi company signed an export agreement for a further five containers in April 2012 and two more in May. This fruit came from 62 growers and the operation employed over 250 labourers. A key Sudanese ‘project grower’ has established a banana growers group in Singa.
Original project design strongly focused on production and the introduction of banana varieties that were more acceptable for export markets. However it soon became clear that it is impossible to develop an export chain without closely involving exporters and importers. The project therefore started to put strong emphasis activities to solicit market partners, and to address specific problems at different points of the value chain using a market perspective.
Ethiopian banana export prices remain high against established suppliers, due to logistical issues, including high transport costs and lack of refrigerated containers that are required for transport to Djibouti port. On the other hand, a large and growing domestic market with little demand for quality provides a reliable outlet for produce with relatively little effort for the grower. Therefore achieving a competitive position relative to other exporters remains a challenge. Progress in transporting substantial current cut-flower exports by refrigerated container could help by generating economies-of-scale to reduce costs and influence shippers to adjust routes and improve sailing times.
High transport costs are also an issue in Sudan, but the newly introduced varieties and practices (e.g. in irrigation) are increasingly disseminating, and truck exports to the Levant (Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan) are becoming regular and consistent. Further experience in these less-demanding destinations will help the sector adjust to both regional importer demands and to the more challenging European market requirements, where demand for organic fruit is greatest and pays a premium. Supplying such markets only at times of high seasonal demand (coinciding with peak supply in Sudan) is another feasible strategy.
In both countries, public sector bodies for horticultural development were closely involved and both continue supporting post-project development of their banana sectors. Some infrastructure is in place and several international importing companies are actively exploring the potential in both countries and remain interested in carrying out trial shipments to Europe. Both countries are now linked to the international markets but need to build on the initial momentum. Markets are close-by and current competitor suppliers face their own challenges. Demand for organic produce in the Middle East has hitherto been very limited, so European markets remain the key outlet for any emerging Sudanese and Ethiopian organic banana export industry, which will indeed pay an additional premium for “organic” labelled bananas.