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Argentina increasingly imports more bananas than it produces

Staff writer |
The banana is the Argentineans favorite and most consumed fruit: per capita consumption stands at more than 12 kilograms per year.

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Argentina produces bananas in a tropical area in the north of the country but local production only supplies a fraction of what is consumed in the country. Instead, banana imports soar.

In 2015 Argentina imported over 400,000 tons of bananas, 50% more than what it imported a decade ago.

Argentina spends about 200 million dollars every year to import the bananas it needs. According to official data, last year the country imported a total of 404,279,000 kilos of bananas, which accounted for 91% of all the fruit imported, well above kiwis, avocados, and pineapples.

These imports are a good business for several countries: more than half of the banana comes from Ecuador, but there are also imports from Bolivia, Paraguay, Brazil and even Chile, as they sent 191 tons of bananas to Argentina in 2015. Banana imports are growing. Ten years ago Argentina only imported 300,000 tons, i.e. the country used to import 100,000 tons less than nowadays.

In light of this, a report by the National Agricultural Technology Institute (INTA) asserted the opportunities that Argentina has to supply a bigger share of their own banana market. Currently, the country has two regions with a suitable climate to grow this product: Formosa and Salta/Jujuy.

The country has nearly 5,400 hectares devoted to this crop that produce 105,000 tons of domestic bananas. However, that offer is only big enough to cover up to 20% of the country's demand.

Additionally, Argentina's banana production has big ups and downs because it is in the hands of small producers that are affected by a lack of rules that assure them an adequate return.

In general, Argentina's banana production caters to nearby areas, such as Formosa, Corrientes, Chaco, Cordoba and Tucuman. These fruits hardly ever reach Buenos Aires, as the imported bananas went from having 86% of the Central Market's share in 2001 to more than 95% of it nowadays. That is, only 5% of the banana in Buenos Aires' Central Market is of domestic origin.

The competition from imported banana severely conditioned local production. Formosa's banana production, for example, began in the early twentieth century and had its boom after 1960, with more than 7,500 hectares cultivated. Currently, that surface area has decreased to only 1,500 hectares in the Department of Pilcomayo, at a place called Laguna Naineck and its surroundings.

By the end of 2015, the 24-kilo box of bananas from Ecuador had a cost of nearly 200 pesos while the box of bananas from Salta and Formosa only cost between 70 to 90 pesos.

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