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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

the banana - it is International and not restricted to India alone.

As I travelled along Tamarabarani river in Tirunelveli, there were banana plantations all around, which was very enjoyable.

Have heard of Banana Republic  which is a disparaging reference to an unstable country dependent upon limited agriculture, quite often bananas and ruled by a small, wealthy, corrupt politico-economic plutocracy. The original concept was a direct reference to a servile dictatorship that abetted kickbacks and exploited the large scale plantation agriculture. Now the World understands that such things can happen in larger democracies also and such abetments need not pertain to plantation alone.

Nearer Mexico, there are banana boats which are smaller ships that carry bananas as primary cargo. Banana is one of the most productive plant and in correct climate, it produces year around for decades.  The trunk is in fact densely packed leaves growing up from a base of clump of roots.  

Banana, that delicious fruit is the common name for herbaceous plants of the genus Musa and for the fruit they produce.  Interestingly, bananas do not grow from a seed but from a bulb or rizhome.  The plant would be ripe for harvesting in 9 to 12 months.  Most parts of the tree would be of use.  The flower appearance is the most looked for thing.   They come in various shapes, sizes, colours and tastes also.  They could be yellow, purple, red and green.  In Western world, banana is different from a plantain.  The varieties that one get to see in local market are green, nendran, rasthali, puvan, robusa, red, hill, karpoora valli and of late G9 or grand naine which is said to be produced on tissue culture.

Down south in India, eating in a banana leaf is fulfilling and traditionally food is served on big banana leaf on ceremonial occasions. Though India is one of the major cultivators and ranks high in terms of produce, We unfortunately are not on top when it comes to trade, especially export trade.  In recent years, Gujarat is emerging as one of the major growing and exporting States, shipping tonnes of the fruit to Middle East, following Kerala. A container load can reportedly have around 10 tonnes of  G9 bananas.

Though not much from India, the banana export has a good market especially from Mexico, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Philippines and Colombia. The prospective buyers are US and Europe.  It is reported that on farms from Mexico to Ecuador, banana is grown andharvested in labour intensive process that involves many farm hands, equipment including refrigerated vans and tons of pesticides.

The commercial crops grow upto 30 ft in height and can contain upto 150 bananas.  The fruit is cut green from the plant.  The trunks of the plants are not very strong and get affected by gale winds.  It would be a sad sight to see lots of plants falling down when heavy wind blows.

Whilst it is purely a manual process of harvesting in Tamilnadu, in Western World, it is more sophisticated.  They use aerial spraying of pesticides, the water used in packing plants to wash pesticides comes from irrigation canals and then routed back, some places they put plastic bags to prevent infest attack, at harvesting the stem is placed on large cable system  workers place form cushions among the fruit to stop bruising, then fruit is then pushed along the cable to the packing plant.  There the stems are cut into smaller bunches.  Big boxes containing bunches are put on skids for shipment.  They are shipped in refrigerated containers and sail to North America or Europe.  In a few days from harvesting, they are on sale at malls and retail ships.  

Now coming to Ships (there could be other modes of transport as well)Banana Ships are the self sustaining Cellular Reefer vessels.  Dole Fresh Fruit International Ltd, Costa Rica own two large cold storage vessels of the World employed for carriage of bananas from Costa Rica to the east coast of USA.  They are Dole Chile and Dole Columbia.  These vessels are hatcoverless configuration with a record breaking concentration of perishable cargo carrying capacity.  Dole Chile has a capacity of 1,000 40ft containers or 2,000 TEUs.  It was a vessel built in Kiel and delivered in 1999.  it has been classified by Germanishcher Lloyd and has Liberian flag.  The temperature in cargo holds are to be less than 45°C. The container refrigeration units used on the Dole ships are fitted with both air-cooled and watercooled condensers, and are connected to the freshwater cooling system by quick couplings. Certain holds have been prepared specifically to enable reefer containers to be carried under modified atmosphere arrangements to slow the fruit ripening process. The ripening process is slowed by subjecting the cargo to a nitrogen-rich atmosphere. The plant installed on the Dole Chile employs the membrane process for nitrogen generation.

Dole Chile is equipped with two shipboard gantry cranes, each with a carrying capacity of 40tons to ensure rapid cargo handling. These raise the vertical centre of the vessel and required careful consideration due to the restricted depths available in many harbours in the area of deployment. The moulded breadth of the vessel, 32.24m, offers some compensation and also makes it easier to carry 40ft containers in the hold. Its propulsion is provided by a Sulzer 8RTA72U two-stroke diesel engine, producing 23,920kW at 97rpm, directly driving a fixed-blade propeller with a diameter of 6.65m. The demand for electrical energy is high on the Dole Chile with its all refrigerated payload. This energy is provided by five four-stroke diesels; three Mak 8M32s and two Mak 6M32s, each providing 3840kW and 2880kW respectively at 600rpm.

The next time you see a cart load of bananas in the local market, remember that there is so much of globalization and we are lacking so much behind.

Regards :  S. Sampathkumar.


  1. loved the article.

    In one of the by-lanes of Jambazaar runs the whole-sale mandi for bananas. here the ripening process is accelerated by chemical fumes.. in contrast to the slowing process at Dole chile

  2. The Slow ripening process is actually called as Hibernation process. Here after the cargo (unripen raw green banana) is loaded, the hatch is completly sealing using silica gel and the oxygen present in the cargo hold is pumped out and some % of carbon di oxide is pumped in to the hold. Reefer vessels are equipped with special m/c to carry out this process along with the In-direct cooling refriginating system (mostly using brine solution). Under this oxygen deprive atmosphere the bananas stored in the hold will go in to a hibernative state (where unripen stays unripen). Only when the hatch is open and oxygen is available the riping process will start. It is possible to ship cargo under this condition for minimum of 40 days.

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