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FAO, Ecuador govt unveil guide to make banana workers’ conditions safer
Friday, 10 November, 2017, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Bananas are the most exported fresh fruit in the world, both by volume and by economic value, and workers in the banana sector can now count on a practical guide aimed at making their working conditions healthier and safer. It was presented by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the government of Ecuador at the Third Conference of the World Banana Forum, which took place in Geneva recently.

The banana sector serves as an essential source of employment and income for thousands of rural households in developing countries, and the manual, while initially aimed at workers in the South American nation, can be adapted for use across the globe. It contains a series of recommendations addressed to trainers and workers in the sector on how to manage risks on banana farms and how to carry out work more safely.
It includes a wide range of guidelines covering such topics as the proper handling, storage and use of agrochemicals and pesticides, measures for adequate personal protection (including first aid in emergency situations), hygiene standards, information on ergonomic risks, ways to stop gender-related violence and other human rights abuses.

“This handbook is a great step forward in defense of workers’ rights. This pioneer initiative should be replicated in other banana producing countries,” said Raúl Clemente Ledesma Huerta, Ecuador’s labour minister, at the conference, which brought together over 300 representatives from the banana sector and other stakeholders, including retailers, importers, producers, exporters, consumer associations, governments, academic institutions, United Nations (UN) agencies, trade unions and civil society organisations. 
Social, environmental & health risks
Bananas, after cereals, sugar, coffee and cocoa, is the most traded agricultural product in the world, and attempts to lower production costs often leads to disastrous consequences on the rights of workers and on the environment.
For example, banana plantations use 10 times more pesticides than conventional plantations in developed countries. Elevated exposure to these agrochemicals can cause serious health problems for workers and neighbouring communities - one of the topics addressed in the manual.
The manual does not only serves as a guide to identify risks, but also as a source of information regarding the current legislation to report on work-related accidents.
Fruit of a cross-sectoral partnership
Of the almost 100 million ton of bananas consumed each year in the world, around 20 million are exported. Of these, almost six million come from Ecuador, the world’s largest exporter and the country chosen by the Banana Initiative for Occupational Health and Safety (BOHESI), coordinated by the FAO-led World Banana Forum and the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) Solidaridad and Bananalink, as a priority country for the development of the manual.
The guide, aimed at both trainers and workers, is the result of an unprecedented consensus between the public and private sectors and civil society, and includes all current legislation applicable to the sector in Ecuador. It is expected to be useful for about 2,50,000 direct workers and between two and 2.5 million workers related to banana exports in the country.
Given that banana farming is carried out in a similar way throughout the world, from Latin America to Asia and the Pacific, the initiative can be adapted and replicated in banana-producing countries around the world, incorporating their own legislations.

The FAO World Banana Forum Secretariat is the neutral facilitator responsible for coordination among the members of this huge industry and aims to actively promote the adoption of the handbook globally.
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