When we landed in Cambridge I looked forward to eating plenty of apples, that classic British fruit. Isaac Newton even figured out gravity in this hallowed town when one dropped on his head. I expected apples to be cheap as chips but was in for a rude shock. One apple cost a whopping 20p! A Banana on the other hand cost only 8p. In the land of apples we ended up eating a lot of imported bananas, our consciences massaged by the glowing fair-trade stickers.
Fast forward to the Gulu market. Today I bought 3 smallish bananas for 1000 shillings, about 7p a banana. Wait a minute. That’s basically the same prices as a banana in England! What is this madness? How can be? Uganda is banana land. The tourist shop in the capital is literally called ‘banana boat’. I tried thinking hard about it but it just made me go bananas given that this Banana republic…
1. Has tiny margins on food and retail goods
2. Has farmers who earn only $2 a day
3. Grows shedloads of bananas. They are everywhere
So what’s going on? How can prices in England and Gulu be the same?
Bananas are imported to England in enormous quantities mainly from South America, from efficient banana plantations which where they are grown at lower cost than in Uganda. Growers are paid peanuts. Bananas are then sold in England at tiny margins or even as a ‘loss leader’, to bring customers to buy other things in the supermarket. I may have bought my 8p banana for less than it cost to grow, ship it 20,000 miles and sell it in Tesco. As a side note, the carbon produced by transporting bananas this huge distance wasn’t paid for by anyone. Except the planet. And our grandchildren.
There are two major factors which (I think) drive up banana prices here in Northern Uganda
- We import our bananas from other parts of Uganda. The climate isn’t great for bananas, with a 3 month dry season causing great stress to the plants. Bananas traditionally weren’t grown here. NGOs have tried to help locals set up banana growing businesses, but I haven’t yet heard of a successful project.
- The supply chain is inefficient, as the bananas run through a lot of hands who all take a cut before I pick them up at Lacor market. This diagram shows all the potential hands bananas could go through before arriving in Lacor market. Incredibly across the Nile just 90 minutes drive away bananas can be less than half the price of in Gulu! Lot’s of locals buy them on the bus on the way up.
Even after all this rationalisation, I feel I haven’t really solved it. Bananas shouldn’t be the same price in England. In the land of apples, we ate bananas. In the land of bananas what then shall we eat?
Who am I kidding? In this wonderful place where I can buy an avocado for 8p, a passionfruit for 5p or a watermelon for 20p, what am I doing worrying about the price of a banana?