the largest plantations are found in the North
The banana (Musa acuminata AAA) is the most highly consumed tropical fruit in the world, cultivated in more than 128 countries. It is the fruit of a plant of the Musaceae family and is actually a perennial grass of large size. Reproduction of the banana plant is continuous because the fruit emerges in a recurring manner from the plant, producing a ripe bunch of bananas in less than one year. The exterior color may vary from greenish yellow, yellow, reddish yellow to red.
Recognized for its very high potassium content (vitamin K), the banana plant takes between 80 and 180 days to develop and contains high levels of vitamins (A, B and C) and minerals. Potassium is important for balancing the liquids in the organism, it helps regulate cardiac rhythm and balance blood pressure levels. Another important characteristic of the banana is that 99.5% of its content is fat free; therefore, it is considered favorable for the digestive process.
It is believed that the banana originated approximately 8,000 years ago in New Guinea and later reached Southern Asia. By the year 500 B.C., the fruit was grown in Africa. It eventually reached Europe during the 8th century, with the Arab conquest of Spain. The banana we know arrived in the Canary Islands in the 15th century and was brought to Hispaniola in 1516.
This fruit is typical of tropical and sub-tropical regions. The ideal temperature for its cultivation fluctuates between 26 and 27 degrees Celsius, with constant humidity and extensive rainfall, as it is a plant that demands a lot of water. Land near the ocean is optimal for planting, sheltered from the wind and accessible to irrigation.
Around 500 banana varieties are planted in all tropical regions, although the Cavendish group varieties are the most highly cultivated in the world. The main varieties produced in the Dominican Republic are the Cavendish, Criollo, Johnson, FHIA21, Valery, Gran Enano (Great Dwarf) and Gran Ney (Grand Nain). Banana producers prefer the Cavendish for its resilient characteristics and its high resistance to diseases. Also, because it produces bigger bunches than the other varieties and highly productive plants.
Banana planting and production in the Dominican Republic
In 1896, the first foreign company to produce this fruit commercially set up operations here and left a few years later, despite having made substantial investments. it was not until 1943, that the Grenada Company established operations and started to export bananas from Manzanillo Port. In 1951, the Dominican Fruit Company established itself in Azua, where it operated until 1966. Subsequently, a period of instability affected the export of this crop. Nevertheless, by the 1990s, once the Port of Manzanillo was renovated, the country positioned itself as a leading exporter of this product, particularly to Europe.
Although bananas are grown in all regions of the country, the northern region accounts for 60% of production, specifically in the provinces of Valverde, Santiago Rodriguez, Montecristi and Dajabon. The southern region follows with 12% of the harvest and the central region produces 11%. There is no established season for planting bananas, but producers prefer cultivation between the months of June and August because it is the cycle when the plant’s requirements are more favorably satisfied regarding temperature, rainfall and light.
Banana production has increased significantly in our country, especially in the last four years, when it went from 18.2 million bunches in 2008 to 24.1 million in 2009, followed by 30 million in 2010, to 35.5 million in 2012, which represents a growth rate greater than 80%. In 2012, approximately 22,757 hectares were harvested with bananas, with a production of approximately 34 million bunches of banana valued at RD$4,675 million. This production mostly supplies the export market due to the growing volume of organic banana exports, which represent close to 80% of all organic exports of the country.
Banana exportation and its contribution to the national economy
The Dominican Republic occupies the 22nd place among banana producers of the world and 8th place in Latin America. In the year 2011 the country exported 366 thousand tons of bananas with a value of US$358 million, which places this crop in first place, above sugar and cacao. Banana exporters have focused on organic production and the Dominican Republic is currently the world’s major producer of this organic product. These exports are mainly shipped to the United Kingdom, Belgium, France and Germany, as well as other European Community countries. In addition to generating foreign exchange income, another important contribution of bananas to the national economy is that, together with organic cacao, it is a great source of employment in farmlands, as well as in product selection and packaging for export.