Banana grower Jetta van den Berg has long been certified organic and Fairtrade, paying living wages to her staff, and providing pensions and health insurance for all.

Weathering the storm: a year-round commitment to banana growers

Banana growers navigate huge challenges during storm season in the Dominican Republic, making the arrival of Dominican bananas in our fruit bowls a remarkable feat.

Bananas are a cheap, staple item for most households. They are such a regular feature that it can be easy to take them for granted. But when you reflect on the work that has gone into growing and harvesting them, and the incredible journey they have made to reach us, you might find yourself appreciating them a little more.  

Here at Riverford, autumn is the trickiest time to ensure that our bananas reach customers’ doorsteps in exceptional condition, because they’ve made that journey despite some challenging circumstances. Our bananas come from grower Jetta van den Berg in the South Western region of the Dominican Republic, and we commit to buying her bananas all year round.  

During storm season, growing conditions are difficult, and many buyers will ‘jump ship’ and purchase bananas from South America instead, but traceability, commitment and relationships are central to our sourcing principles at Riverford, so we – quite literally – weather the storm.  

“Weather is becoming more erratic due to climate change.” Says van den Berg. “Where we used to have a climate event like a hurricane or tornado every five to six years, now we basically have one every year.”  

This year a tornado ripped through the farm and destroyed around 60 per cent of the banana plants. As well as hurricanes and tornadoes, storm season brings increased rainfall, ever greater humidity and can herald an intensification of pests and diseases. Limited supply becomes a huge issue, but because of the stress and weather conditions, bananas can also ripen erratically. 

Bananas are picked and transported green. In the natural ripening process, bananas emit a gas called ethylene which ripens them, turning them yellow and breaking down their starches into sugar.  This is why placing other fruits, such as avocadoes, near bananas can help ripen them. In the UK, all bananas are ripened in ripening rooms, where ethylene triggers ripening in a controlled environment.  

At Riverford, we aim to deliver bananas at stage three of ripeness, as yellowy-green bananas. We find that during storm season, ripening can be more unpredictable, we get them in different states, and ripening is harder to control. It’s a delicate balance to strike; bananas that are too ripe are prone to bruising and damage, but too green and they are vulnerable to chilling injuries in our winter conditions. This turns them grey and can even happen while bananas are sitting on doorstep deliveries in colder weather.  

Unpredictability of banana supply over this time makes our job harder, but getting our sourcing right is more important. Bananas are big business. It’s an industry fraught with poor treatment of workers and poor environmental practices that can destroy ecosystems. Van den Berg, a Dutch agronomist, founded the first organic farm in the Dominican Republic. It was also the first to achieve Fairtrade certification and they are still leading the change to this day – guaranteeing living wages, pensions, and health insurance for all.  

Van den Berg has two banana plantations, half of each farms’ area is dedicated as protected land, to serve as natural habitats for local wildlife, including many species of birds. As well as being organic, their traditional mixed farm system works as part of a sustainable ecosystem, using state-of-the-art technology and efficient irrigation systems to save huge amounts of water. 

For us, it’s essential to have trust and transparency in our supply chain, and to work with growers we are confident are committed to protecting people and planet. Whatever the weather, we’ll stick with them. Storm season is drawing to a close. Which we know will be a relief for van den Berg and her team, and for us too, but it certainly makes us appreciate them all the more.  


Leave a Reply

  1. I enjoyed both the bananas🍌 and the article and will certainly stick to Riverford and it’s great supply chain.
    Thank you for your serious commitment to both suppliers and consumers.


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