We have no bananas: pest hits imports

  • Fruitless trip: a sign at The Supermart on Front Street advises customers about the banana shortage (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

    Fruitless trip: a sign at The Supermart on Front Street advises customers about the banana shortage (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

  • Ahead of the curve: Preston Ephraim, left, Om Juicery owner and PC Arthur Dill share a laugh. Mr Ephraim said his store has a plentiful supply of bananas and is not affected by the shortage (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

    Ahead of the curve: Preston Ephraim, left, Om Juicery owner and PC Arthur Dill share a laugh. Mr Ephraim said his store has a plentiful supply of bananas and is not affected by the shortage (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Bermuda’s banana crisis is continuing as importers and officials struggle to find a solution to pest problems in imported fruit.

Some shops used signs to tell customers that bananas will be unavailable “until further notice” and one said it had added a frozen version to its shelves after mealybugs and scale affected imported fruit.

Peter Tobin, the president and general manager of the consumer products division at food distribution firm Butterfield&Vallis, said: “Until such time that a sustainable solution to the challenge of the mealybug infestation is found, B&V does not plan on importing bananas.”

He added that the company, which used to bring in about 430 cases of bananas a week, gave the Department of Environment and Natural Resources four cases of the fruit this week so different cleaners could be tested on them.

The Government announced last month that Bermuda could expect “a temporary shortage of bananas in the coming weeks due to pest contaminations of imported banana shipments”.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Home Affairs, which includes the DENR, said yesterday: “Some new avenues for importing clean bananas are now being pursued by the private sector and DENR is working with them to facilitate.”

She added: “At a meeting last week between government officials and importers/prospective importers of bananas, there were cross-industry discussions on ways to address the challenges we’re facing with respect to the incoming banana pests, namely mealybug and scale.

“There was open and frank dialogue regarding the difficulties of obtaining pest-free bananas.

“It was agreed that we cannot rely on the banana inspections overseas and the accompanying certification as a guarantee of freedom from the pests.

“The meeting was both informative and explorative.

“It was a good opportunity for the stakeholders to share information and to discuss ways to leverage their efforts going forward to reduce the cost of banana importations.

“Both the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and importers are exploring the suitability and efficacy of possible treatments to address the problem.”

The problem started when bunches of the fruit imported from South and Central America in late 2018 were found to be infested with scale and mealybugs.

A spokeswoman for supermarket chain The MarketPlace, which also imports bananas, said that the company was working with the Government to solve the problem.

She added: “I would say everything’s still up in the air. If we did have a solution, obviously we would be moving forward with our overseas suppliers.”

The spokeswoman added that customers missed the fruit.

She said: “Especially with Bermuda, they like their codfish dish. Banana is one of the key items on that dish.”

At The Supermart, on Front Street, a sign told customers: “Sorry, there will be no imported bananas available until further notice.”

Tredick Gorham, the company president, explained: “Bananas are normally the number one fruit or vegetable that any produce department sells so when we can’t get them for different reasons, obviously it has an impact.”

He added: “I don’t think anybody on any side of the equation is happy about it. An answer needs to be found because we are beholden to the distribution chain.”

A manager at Harrington Hundreds, in Smith’s, said it was about three weeks since fresh bananas had last been on sale in the supermarket and that customers had asked for them.

She added that the shop had started to sell packets of frozen bananas.

The manager added: “They’re selling really well, I guess people still like to make their banana bread or their smoothie.”

Preston Ephraim, the owner of OM Juicery in Hamilton, explained that although most of the smoothies on his menu contained banana, his supplies had kept up with demand.

He said: “I had ten to 15 cases of back stock of Bermuda bananas so we’re still going through that, so I’m not affected.”

Mr Ephraim said that his bananas were chopped and frozen after they were bought from farmers and he also bought organic bananas from other suppliers.

Carlos Amaral, the Bermuda Farmers Association president, said that about 95 per cent of banana crops were “decimated” when Hurricane Humberto, a Category 3 storm, brushed the island last September.

He added: “We could replant all we want right now, but you still can’t take away from the fact that, on average, you’re looking at 12 to 18 months for a crop to recoup after a hurricane of that magnitude.”

Mr Amaral said that the importation problems, combined with “major damage” to the local crop was a double whammy.

He added: “The timing ... couldn’t have been worse.”

Walter Roban, the home affairs minister, said last month that importers in Bermuda were required to have their products inspected in the country of origin before they were exported, with the shipments inspected again on the island.

He added: “Frequently the DENR personnel inspect boxes which are marked as inspected overseas only to encounter the pests on these bananas.”

A Butterfield and Vallis spokesman said last December that a series of price hikes for bananas were “related to the increasing cost of fruit inspection by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources”.

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Published Feb 26, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated Feb 26, 2020 at 8:00 am)

We have no bananas: pest hits imports

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