Thought to be a native plant of tropical Asia, the banana ( platano, banano) was introduced into the Caribbean and then to Central America and Costa Rica sometime after the Spanish invasion.
Costa Rica’s banana industry, recently ousted by tourism as the country’s number one foreign currency earning industry, continues to expand to meet the demand of a growing international market. In 1992, 32,000 hectares were planted with bananas, a 50% increase since 1985. As you read this the bananas will be over at least 50,000 hectares. Most growth is concentrated in the Atlantic lowlands.
Bananas have been part of the Caribbean landscape since 1870, when American entrepreneur Minor Keith shipped his first fruit stems to New Orleans. In 1899, his Tropical Trading and Transport Co. Merged with the Boston Fruit Co. to form the United Fruit Co., which soon became a dominant force of the political economies of the “banana republics “. By the 1920s, much of the chaotic jungle south of Puerto Limon has been transformed into a vast expanse of bananas.
Unlike nowadays, working conditions were appalling, and strikes were so frequent that when Panama disease and then Sigatoca disease swept the region in the 30s and 40s, United Fruit took the opportunity to abandon its Atlantic installations and move to the pacific coast, where it planted around Golfito, Coto Colorado, and Palmar (operated by the Compañía Bananera). Violent clashes with the banana workers unions continued to be the company’s nemesis. In 1985, after the 72-day strike, United Fruit closed its operations in southwestern Costa Rica. Many of the plantations where replaced by stands of palma africana; others are leased to independent growers and farmers cooperatives who sell to United Fruit.
The Standard Fruit Co. began productions in the Atlantic lowlands in 1956. Alongside ASBANA (Asociacion de Bananeros), a government-sponsored private association, Standard Fruit helped revive the Atlantic coast banana industry. Much of the new acreage, however, has come at the expense of thousands of acres of virgin jungles. Banana export earnings rose from $482.9 million in 1992 to $531 million in 1993.