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Plan B: Bridging Knowledge Gaps to increase Biodiversity for Regenerative and Resilient Banana Cropping Systems

Future banana agro-ecosystems: great leverage for tackling climate change and other global sustainability challenges

Photo of Lieselot Van der Veken
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

Pro Terra Agro

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Sustainable Production System Consultancy Business with close collaboration and affiliation to: Laboratory for Tropical Crop Improvement, Catholic University of Leuven (KULeuven), BE Bioversity Musa International Transit Centre, CGIAR Other relevant CGIAR centres: CIAT, IITA Pro Musa Information Network Academia and research throughout the Tropics: ESPOL CIBE (Guayaquil, Ecuador), Earth Costa Rica; INIAP (Ecuador), INIA (Peru), Agrosavia (Colombia) Banana producers (Latin America-Pacific), cooperatives (Coplaca, Corbana) and banana exporters (Dole, Fresh Fruit Holding) International Biocontrol Manufacturers Organisation (IBMA) and Bio Protection Global (BPG) and associated member companies (manufacturers and traders of bio-inputs) BREG (Belgian Renewable Energy Group) Sustainable Banana Initiative Belgium; Fairtrade, KULeuven, Bioversity, IDH, DG ENVI (EU), TheShift, Federal Government BE, banana value chain stakeholders Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership

Website of Legally Registered Entity

www.proterra-agro.com

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 10+ years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Herent near Leuven

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

Belgium

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Valverde a province of Dominican Republic (48.684 km²) bridging to other Agricultural Research and Knowledge Centres throughout the Tropics.

What country is your selected Place located in?

Mao, capital of Valverde (800km2) province, Dominican Republic (DR).

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

As a result of its location and climatic conditions, DR is an important producer of organic Fairtrade banana for EU and US markets (approx. 20 000 Ha). Due to the importance of the agro-export and touristic sector, Dominican authorities are receptive in the development of sustainable agricultural practices. Fresh Fruit Holding (FFH) is a 10 year old Belgian family business with a strong sustainability track record (e.g. introduction of organic Fairtrade banana with Dole by previous generation). Their facilities include banana nurseries, organic Fairtrade family farms with trial fields (500 Ha), 2000 Ha of organic banana with local farmers, banana export facilities and commercial collaborations in EU and US. Fresh Fruit Holdings is a sustainability leader in the banana producer and export sector. Both ecological and social sustainability aspects are addressed. 

Ecologically, by renewable energy,  growing organically and continuous testing of bio-inputs and exploring intercropping and other agro-ecological principles. 

Social sustainability is addressed by working according to Fairtrade principles (legalisation for labourers with migration status), daily provision of a nutritious lunch to the labourers, applying weekend pay and envisioning construction of on-site houses to improve the livelihoods of the banana workers. Development and adoption of sustainable banana production methods is therefore part of FFH's DNA. 

A five year old collaboration exists in co-developing ecological banana farming practices. Starting with understanding the production challenges, sourcing appropriate biological control agents, sound scientific trialing in relevant production context in collaboration with students and academia, resulted in promising results on various aspects of banana production. Incorporating appropriate microbial agents resulted in increased plant growth (20-30% fresh weight) and resilience against fungal diseases in the field and post-harvest.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Dominican people are very hospital with a lively Carribean carpe diem mindset. Conform the Latam-Pacific region, majority of the young population lives in cities (Santo Domingo, Santiago) in search for job opportunities and proper education for their children, resulting in densely populated urban areas and deserted rural areas in between. Therefore, rural development, with appropriate schools, facilities and proper employment are key in tackling rural poverty and providing quality of life to a an ever increasing population (average annual population growth rate around 1.1 %). 

Banana forms an important part of the local diet: immature desert banana as a breakfast porridge, ripe desert banana as a desert or different recipes with plantain (eg. "Mofongo", "Patacones"). As an Island, the local diet mainly consists of carbohydrates (rice, potato and banana) and meat or fish. 

Fruits and vegetable cultivation are mainly export oriented or heavily contaminated with chemical pesticides for local consumption. Therefore, introduction of organically grown fruits and vegetables as part of a mixed banana cropping system, provides many human and environmental health advantages. 

The Dominican Republic has a moderate, relatively mild tropical climate, although it lies well within the tropical zone. Conditions are more temperate in many areas by elevation and by the northeast trade winds, which blow steadily from the Atlantic all year long. The Dominican Republic is generally mountainous, with deserts in the extreme western regions. The principal mountain range, the Central Cordillera, running from east to west and extensively pine-forested, bisects the republic. Tropical crops grown in the DR are rice, progressively being replaced by banana due to low priced imported rice and reduced local yields (mainly due to fungal diseases). Coffee, cacao in the elevations, avocado, mango and ornamental nurseries are situated in the southern coastal zone, with some pineapple near Cotui area. Due to its 2 mountain ranges, strawberry in terraces and fruiting vegetables under screenhouses are cultivated, about 750Ha of tomato and 750Ha of sweet pepper. Currently, those fruiting vegetables are heavily loaded with chemical pesticides and could be relatively easy switched to IPM systems using (invertebrate) biocontrol agents (beneficial insects and mites) according to well established Dutch, Belgian and Spanish model. Next to the environmental and ecological health benefits of reducing the chemical pesticide load  on food, it would also enable producers to comply with maximum residu levels (MRL's) and thus  open a stabile export market to close by US.

Developing and providing a proof of concept of sustainable banana cropping practices, can then be further developed  and extended to other important food crops. Logistically and legally (plant protection registration) Dominican Republic provides a desirable setting with big potential impact, since a wide variety of important food crops is locally grown.

This would improve the access to locally grown healthy food, improving social, ecological and economical sustainability for the local population.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

800

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

10000000

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Current banana cropping systems face ecological, social and economical sustainability challenges:

 The conventional plantation system is highly reliant on chemical plant protection products and fertilizers. To control black Sigatoka, the major fungal leaf disease of banana caused by Mycosphaerella fijiensis, over 60 cycles of aerial fungicide sprayings are applied on an annual basis in Costa Rica. In areas with moderate disease pressure (strongly related with rainfall) the fungal leaf disease is controlled by rotating paraffinic oil with microbial or botanical biofungicides. 

In Central America, the Pacific and East Africa, plant-parasitic nematodes, like Meloidogyne incognita and Radopholus similis devastate the root systems, causing lesions and rotting of the root tissue thereby providing entry for secondary infections (eg. Fusarium oxysporum pv. cubense TR4 (Foc TR4). High populations of the banana weevil, Cosmopolites sordidus, are considered a serious threat to banana roots for the same reasons. The vascular root fungus For TR4, causes wilting of the banana plants by blocking the vascular xyleme vessels. Soils infected with this fungus become stranded assets for banana farming for several decades and is currently posing a global threat to banana production worldwide.

The fact that all plantation bananas belong to the Cavendish Group (Musa AAA cultivars Gran Naine or Williams) and genetic variation of this in vitro cultured plants is almost non existing (plants in a field are genetic clones), makes these plantation cropping systems extremely prone to any pest or disease. Mixed smallholder farms face similar problems of pest and diseases and often lack resources to remediate or improve yield by applying biofertilizers and nutrient solubilizing micro-organisms. The high dependence on chemical pesticides results in human and environmental health problems. 

Socially, banana farm workers are often vulnerable labor immigrants or low educated local people. Exposure to heavy labor, low wages and chemical pesticides often results in health problems, further increasing social precarity. Majority of the turnover of banana sales currently stick to the hands of agro exporters, wholesalers and retailers. Whereas the majority of the work and risks, in areas highly prone to climate change, is taken by the farmers. 

Currently, banana markets undergo a great deal of economic stress, due to the never-ending price war between retailers for this most frequently bought fruit in supermarkets. Due to the supermarket margins and the fact bananas are pulling the consumers, the price competition is very intensive.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Resilient agro-ecosystems will result in improved ecological, social and economical sustainability;

By re-introducing circular processes, which growing food originally was, with the addition of the currently available bio inputs, applying agro-ecological principles, the general dependency of chemical agro-inputs will decrease. By increasing biodiversity and system resilience, pest and disease pressure will drop and nutrient efficiency increase. A step-wise increase to more resilient systems will result in more productivity with less external inputs, which will result in lower input costs and higher yields, improving economical sustainability.

Ecological sustainability of banana producing systems can be improved substantially by the following:

-Re-integrating successful farm management practices from smallholder farmers into plantation systems (eg. systems with different banana cultivars, mixed intercropping systems combining leguminous (food) crops and other intercrops, thereby restoring functional agrobiodiversity, instead of spraying chemical herbicides). 

-Pest and disease being tackled by appropriate combinations of biological control agents, biostimulants and biofertilizers to increase systems biodiversity, and thus resilience. Application of appropriate beneficial organisms that can proliferate and establish in the banana production systems could provide a long-term increase in system resilience and productivity. Use of N, P and K solubilizing bacteria in combination with organic matter, arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) and other beneficial soil organisms in combination with biofertilizers should decrease the dependency of the scarce N, P and K natural sources.

-Any possible organic waste materials being re-incorporated by the systems as organic material, input for locally processed food (dried or baby porridge) and fibers being used for textile and paper.

Improved social sustainability will result (in)directly from the above described ecological and sustainability by:

-Reduced health problems with the workers through reduction of chemical inputs

-Improved diet through the food intercrops locally produced on the farm.

-Increase of knowledge of regenerative agronomical management.

And furthermore by improving the impact on the social sustainability by social sustainability certification throughout the value chain.

Economical sustainability is a value chain wide issue to tackle.Expanding social sustainability certification (eg. Fairtrade) further, redistribution of value retribution and finding shared value and transparent communication to consumers along the end-product in the supermarkets can be first valuable tools to achieve this.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Humanity is facing the challenge of providing social foundations for a growing population within the limits of planetary boundaries. Crossed planetary boundaries (climate change, biodiversity loss and N an P cycling) and insufficiencies on social foundations (gender, education, food, poverty) urge a transition towards sustainable production systems worldwide (Raworth, 2012). Agricultural production contributes for over 10-12% of the world’s greenhouse gas emission inducing climate change and is of paramount importance for food and income security throughout the tropics. Banana (Musa spp.) is a huge potential leverage to improve social, ecological and economical sustainability worldwide. Banana is the second largest fruit crop worldwide (114 million tons on 5.6 million Ha, FAO 2017, 2019). Only 13% of production is for export, the remaining 87% represents world’s #4 staple food crop securing food and income for millions of smallholder farmers throughout the (sub)tropics. Furthermore, desert banana (Musa AAA) is one of the most frequently bought fruits in supermarkets and a principle baby food after the weaning phase. With increasing consumer awareness of environmental and human health disadvantages of current plantation practices, consumption of ecologically and socially responsible grown banana trade is rising. Empowering of farmers by regenerating functional biodiversity back into their fields through an integrated holistic system approach combining agro-ecological principles, re-installing functional biodiversity by introduction of biocontrol agents (BCA), following IPM principles takes a complex transition. To catalyze this transition, an experimental knowledge center will be installed in an organic Fairtrade Caribbean production context. This transition will provide shared value to all stakeholders across a sustainable banana value chain. Which than can be broadened to different crops and across different longitudes throughout the (sub)tropics.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Humanity is facing the challenge of providing social foundations for a growing population within the limits of planetary boundaries. Crossed planetary boundaries (climate change, biodiversity loss and N an P cycling) and insufficiencies on social foundations (gender, education, food, poverty) urge a transition towards sustainable production systems worldwide (Raworth, 2012). Agricultural production contributes for over 10-12% of the world’s greenhouse gas emission inducing climate change and is of paramount importance for food and income security throughout the tropics. Banana (Musa spp.) is a huge potential leverage to improve social, ecological and economical sustainability worldwide. Banana is the second largest fruit crop worldwide (114 million tons on 5.6 million Ha, FAO 2017, 2019). Only 13% of production is for export, the remaining 87% represents world’s #4 staple food crop securing food and income for millions of smallholder farmers throughout the (sub)tropics. Furthermore, desert banana (Musa AAA) is one of the most frequently bought fruits in supermarkets and a principle baby food after the weaning phase. With increasing consumer awareness of environmental and human health disadvantages of current plantation practices, consumption of ecologically and socially responsible grown banana trade is rising. Empowering of farmers by regenerating functional biodiversity back into their fields through an integrated holistic system approach combining agro-ecological principles, re-installing functional biodiversity by introduction of biocontrol agents (BCA), following IPM principles takes a complex transition. To catalyze this transition, an experimental knowledge center will be installed in an organic Fairtrade Caribbean production context. This context covers nursery, field and export facilities in collaboration with banana growers, exporters and traders, as such including all stakeholders across the banana value chain. In this experimental knowledge center, proof of context of sustainable production methods would be generated (eg. Intercrops as bankers for above and belowground BCAs) and farmers would be trained by extension work. Collaboration with Bio Protection Global (BPG) members ensures first hand access to bio-based solutions to be validated in pre-competitive space in relevant field conditions in collaboration with relevant experts and stakeholders. Once validated in this conducive context, translation to other banana growing regions in the world can be made. The current background of the vascular fungal disease Fusarium oxysporum pv. cubense TR4, acutely threatening banana production world-wide, urges all banana value chain actors to collaborate and can act as catalyser for a conducive working climate for cross-sectorial multi-stakeholder collaborations to spark the broader transition towards sustainable banana cropping systems (Fairtrade, Swennen, pers. comm.).

The expected outcome is to set an example of a sustainable food value chain (SFVC)* by empowering farmers with natural solutions on the one side and raising consciousness of distribution chain and consumers on the other side of the FVC. 

Like this, fulfilling the basic need of food becomes a regenerative activity that contributes to our planet's sustainability and animal and human wellbeing, relying on planetary health for its survival and development.

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*A food value chain (FVC) consists of all the stakeholders who participate in the coordinated production and value-adding activities that are needed to make food products.A sustainable food value chain is a food value chain that: 

• is profitable throughout all of its stages (economic sustainability); 

• has broad-based benefits for society (social sustainability); 

• has a positive or neutral impact on the natural environment (environmental sustainability) (FAO, 2019)

The SFVC concept recognizes that value chains are dynamic, market-driven systems in which vertical coordination (governance) is the central dimension and for which value added and sustainability are explicit, multidimensional performance measures, assessed at the aggregate level.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Website
  • WhatsApp, from different angles, sustainability groups.
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Attachments (2)

PhD Presentation LIESELOT VAN DER VEKEN.pdf

PhD research results indicating the potential of multipurpose intercrops for management of plant-parasitic nematodes and beneficial soil micro organisms in a banana based cropping system.

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Spam
Photo of Constanza Castano
Team

Hello again!

The following link may be of interest to continue refining your 2050 Vision. Here you will find the invitation to an upcoming Future-casting Webinar, and a recording of our recent Systems Thinking Webinar:
https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/food-system-vision-prize/open-submission

This is the moment when you can connect with other Visionary teams, provide feedback and get inspired by other submissions.

Warm regards,

Constanza