Chiquita’s researchers have for many years looked for ways to reduce the use of agrochemicals, and to ensure their use is safe for consumers, farm employees, local communities, and for the environment alike. Chiquita runs its own research labs with the goal to find biological remedies for diseases that endanger bananas.
Enemy number 1: Black Sigatoka
The Cavendish banana variety, which consumers in northern markets prefer, is especially susceptible to Black Sigatoka, an airborne disease, which can devastate banana farms unless the leaves are protected by the application of fungicides. Since Black Sigatoka is dispersed by air, it is a relevant and inevitable factor for banana cultivation – whether small subsistence farms, individual commercial growers or large scale farms like Chiquita’s. Aerial spraying is essential to applying these products successfully to the leaves. Despite decades of research by Chiquita’s scientists and many others, no alternative to aerial spraying for control of the Sigatoka disease is currently available. The effective control of Sigatoka requires costly, sophisticated programs.
Although there is no definite solution to the problem of Black Sigatoka up to this day, Chiquita’s research scientists have contributed many innovations to Sigatoka control. Chiquita uses Sigatoka control measures that:
- include regular monitoring of infection levels
- gives priority to mechanical and non-chemical control
- permit the use of the lowest-toxicity products, and
- delay the development of resistant strains of the Sigatoka disease
- are safe for employees, local communities and consumers of bananas
Win-Win situation: create jobs and use less chemicals
For example, to reduce aerial spraying, Chiquita researchers have managed to successfully implement a mechanical control and testing method, which helps reduce overall chemical use significantly. How does it work?
- Instead of dealing with Sigatoka by a fixed spraying schedule, which uses large amount of chemicals, Sigatoka infestation is evaluated tightly on all Chiquita farms on a weekly basis by specialists. Based on the results, the optimal control program is determined.
- This means that only the minimum amount necessary of chemicals is used – a definite advantage over fixed schedule spraying
- A new and most effective countermeasure for affected banana is manual leaf cutting to prevent the spreading of the disease and, therefore, avoid spraying – On our farms in Panama alone, 75 new jobs have been created – many of which are performed by women, as the physical demands for this type of work is much lower than other forms of farm work.
- Aerial spraying will only be done if all other measures taken have failed, and under strict rules and observation. (Following strict spraying rules is also one of the many criteria for the Rainforest Alliance certification).
- $600’000 have been thus saved in chemicals in just one year, with 75 new jobs created
- In addition, new, wider perimeter roads and protective hedges around our farms are being built, allowing for tractor spraying of the outermost 30 meters, thus minimizing the impact of aerial spraying on neighboring terrain.