A Danwatch Investigation
Eduardo Ledesma, chairman of Ecuador’s banana exporters, has been working in the banana industry for twenty years and receives us in his office at the port of Guayaquil, the country’s largest city.
Rebeca Calabria

Journalist

Lise Josefsen Hermann
Journalist

Editing: Amalie Linde / Photo: Esteban Barrera (Danwatch) & Jesper Nymark (Danwatch)

Editor: Louise Voller

Rebeca Calabria

Journalist

Lise Josefsen Hermann
Journalist

Editing: Amalie Linde / Photo: Esteban Barrera (Danwatch) & Jesper Nymark (Danwatch)

Editor: Louise Voller

In cooperation with Dagbladet (Norway)
Eduardo Ledesma, chairman of Ecuador’s banana exporters, has been working in the banana industry for twenty years and receives us in his office at the port of Guayaquil, the country’s largest city.

"We uphold internal rules to protect employees, we pay them above the minimum wage of course, we uphold environmental standards, social agreements, banana laws, and social insurance."

Eduardo Ledesma, Chairman of banana exporters in Ecuador Tweet

The banana industry is one of the most important in Ecuador, and a great many people are dependent upon it.

More than 200,000 people pick and pack bananas on the country’s 5737 banana plantations, which sit on about 163,000 hectares of land. According to the industry’s trade organisation in Ecuador, the country accounts for 29% of banana exports worldwide.

Eduardo Ledesma is the chairman of Ecuador’s banana exporters, and he speaks of the pride Ecuadorians feel for the industry.

“Bananas are a point of reference both nationally and internationally, but it is a constant struggle between the government and the producers and exporters.  The country does not appreciate us.  Yes, Ecuadoreans are proud of their bananas, but the government does not give the proper attention to the banana industry.”

What about exports? Will it be better with the EU from now on?

Last year, we exported 319 million boxes of bananas, and this year we will probably be up around 323.  We expect to grow by 2 or 3%.

Who are your most important customers?

We sell the most to Russia, with 25%. To the EU as a bloc, we sell 33%, and then the US with 9%.

"There may be one report or many reports, but it’s not the case. Why have you not gone to Colombia, Costa Rica or Guatemala? The Philippines? India?"

Eduardo Ledesma, Chairman of banana exporters in Ecuador Tweet

How much does a banana cost in Ecuador?

They pretty much give them away in the supermarkets.  They are not sold individually, and a kilo costs about $0.50.  Let’s say about 10 cents per banana.  The supermarkets are the big winners, but they are also the most demanding.  Ecuadorian banana production complies with all international regulations.  We uphold internal rules to protect employees, we pay them above the minimum wage of course, we uphold environmental standards, social agreements, banana laws, and social insurance.  The bananas satisfy EU requirements regarding pesticide tolerance.  The tendency in Ecuador is to remove pesticides corresponding to particular countries’ needs or requirements.  Ecuador does not use products that are not permitted in the EU or the USA.

I can guarantee you that some of the plantations we visited were using pesticides forbidden by the EU.

I don’t know what plantations you visited where you saw pesticides not approved by the EU, that you can make that accusation.  I am not surprised, because anything is possible.  As a trade organisation, we try to persuade our partners to uphold the rules.  All I know is, this is some kind of European terrorism, coming to disrupt and influence the Ecuadorian banana sector.  Why don’t you go to Guatemala, where they pay six dollars, when we pay nearly thirty? Why don’t you go to Guatemala, to influence and annoy them?  We have asked the Foreign Ministry to look at the situation and complain about these organisations trying to damage Ecuador.

Do the pesticides used in Ecuador affect people’s health?

Some do and some don’t.  They must be used according to pesticide regulations. The pesticides that are used here are the same as those used in Guatemala, Colombia, in all countries.  If they are forbidden by the EU, then I can assure you they are not used here.  And in that case, tell me the name of the product and the banana producer.  Tell me who they are.  If you are a good journalist, tell me that.  My partners do not use pesticides that are forbidden in the EU.

"Stop insisting on that, because it’s a lie. I have obviously been present when they are spraying, and no one is so stupid as to do that."

Eduardo Ledesma, Chairman of banana exporters in Ecuador Tweet

We have spoken with workers who find themselves under crop dusters when they are spraying pesticides from the air.

That’s a lie.  That’s a lie, because the workers are notified.  Stop insisting on that, because it’s a lie.  I have obviously been present when they are spraying, and no one is so stupid as to do that.  I tell you, it is a lie.  If you really want to make the truth into a lie (pounds on the table), then let’s end this interview.  I tell you, it is a lie.

We have visited villages where current and former employees of banana plantations live. They say that the planes spray their homes.

It’s not true.  It’s not true… It’s a lie.  There is more pollution in other products than in bananas.  Bananas do not contain contaminants, because it’s not people doing the spraying.  The pesticides come from planes using GPS to control where they [the chemicals] land, and how they land.  If they were spraying over populated areas or in an irresponsible way, then people might be hit with it. But this is probably false information from competing countries that want to hurt Ecuador.

Let’s turn to the issue of illness.  The Manuela Espejo report demonstrates that the incidence of illnesses like cancer is significantly higher in banana-producing regions than in others.

That has not been proven.  I do not trust the report from the institution in question.

The Manuela Espejo report also looks at the incidence of cancer and birth defects near banana plantations.

That is not true.  If you continue to ask me about cancer and birth defects, I will continue to deny it, because it is not the reality.  There may be one report or many reports, but it’s not the case. Why have you not gone to Colombia, Costa Rica or Guatemala? The Philippines? India?

What kind of documentation would you require to admit that this is a real problem?

I am certain that there is no such [documentation], and if there is, it has been falsified.  I cannot imagine why I should want to shut down the businesses you have examined.  No.  I believe that my banana farmers uphold all the rules.

The investigation is devided in to articles. You decide where to begin.

Now that you have come far ...

… we have a small favor to ask from you. Our journalism have more readers than ever, but very few pay for it. It’s okay, because we don’t want to hide our journalism behind a paywall. We make journalism in the public interest, and this is why it is important to us that it is available to the public.

And this is where we need you!

Independent investigative journalism costs time, money and hard work to produce. But we do it, because we believe that our journalistic investigations matter – which might also be the reason you are here now.