The SCB banana, much more than a tasty fruit

The SCB banana, much more than a tasty fruit

Famed for its unique taste, the SCB banana from Côte d’Ivoire also embodies a model of cultivation that respects people and the environment.

The first archaeological evidence of banana cultivation, which was discovered in Papua New Guinea, dates back 7,000 years. At that time, only a few seed varieties proliferated, until their natural crossing gave rise to seedless fruits. Banana cultivation was domesticated over the course of migrations and millennia and spread to the five continents. Whether plantain or dessert, its flavour and prodigious nutritional qualities make it one of the most popular fruits in the world today.

A fully-fledged economic sector

It is rich in minerals, fibre, carbohydrates and vitamins and low in fat. Filled with powerful antioxidants – dopamine and vitamin C – it helps maintain the nervous and digestive systems and energy metabolism. Originating from the Cavendish genetic variety (named in honour of the 6th Duke of Devonshire, who introduced the fruit into Europe in the 19th century), the dessert banana is sweet and tender. It also represents 60% of the world’s banana production.

In Africa, it is an economic sector in its own right, particularly in Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon and Ghana. Côte d’Ivoire, the leading African producer, produces more than 300,000 tonnes of bananas each year, mainly for the European Union. Appreciated for their intensity and tender flesh, bananas grown on the African continent are reputed to be more fragrant than their Latin American cousins. It’s a question of the soil, but not only that. Soil acidity, sunshine and humidity shape the flavour of the fruit, as do the daily care given to them, the quality of soil drainage and fertilisation. However, transport, ripening in a controlled atmosphere and the growers’ experience also contribute to the development of the taste.

An incomparable flavour

The SCB banana from Côte d’Ivoire which is produced by the Société de Culture Bananière, a Compagnie Fruitière group subsidiary, and which has won the “Flavour of the Year” award for its taste qualities several times, reflects this reality. The SCB, which was established in 1959, was initially made up of a few farmers. Over time, the subsidiary has refined and developed all its agricultural techniques to produce – as consumers say – to “a tasty, tender and fragrant fruit, which surprises by the regularity of its quality”.

Social and Environmental Responsibility

The SCB, which employs more than 6,700 people in Côte d’Ivoire and covers 75% of Ivorian banana production, has also established a unique work ethic in the region. Based on respect for people and the environment, its Social and Environmental Responsibility (SER) policy has transformed the daily lives of its employees and local populations.  Thanks to concrete initiatives taken in most areas of daily life, SCB staff and local residents now have access to medical centres, vaccination and information campaigns, housing, schools, vocational training, transport, infrastructure and decent working conditions that reduce the use of pesticides.

The SCB has obtained various certifications (ISO 14001 – Global Gap – Sedex – Vigeo – Fair Trade Max Havelaar and Ceres) and is audited each year by independent bodies. Finally, as the leading producer of fair trade and organic bananas in the African Caribbean Pacific (ACP) zone, Compagnie Fruitière is perpetuating its environmental initiatives through a partnership with WWF France. Banana cultivation, a catalyst for ever more virtuous agriculture?

The delicacy of bananas

The delicacy of bananas

Bananas are fragile fruits that require a lot of care and inspections from flowering to consumption. The journey and life of an elegant fruit.

Every day in Africa and Latin America, expert hands cultivate banana trees, which are transient but productive plants. Bananas, which are harvested all year round, are fast-growing (about 9 months) perennial fruits. Although there are now more than 1,000 varieties, Cavendish dessert bananas account for more than half of the world’s production. Soft, sweet, immaculate and pampered, a Cavendish can pass through the hands of more than fifty people before landing on our plates.

Cultivation and harvesting: precise actions

Five months after planting the cuttings or shoots, flowering starts on a trunk essentially composed of rolled leaves. Then comes the banana cluster comprising “hands”, the bunches, and “fingers” which are the fruits. Bananas are sensitive to cold, wind, temperature variations, mould, insects and shocks and require a lot of gentleness and care. Growers bustle about in plantations where the soil is regularly drained. They remove dead leaves, measure, fertilise, remove pistils and parasites, stake the trees, while checking for latex drips and tracking parasites or fungi. They also do not forget to remove the suckers that form at the foot of the parent plant threatening the survival of the banana tree. This is called suckering. Incidentally, at harvest time, only one successor sucker will be preserved. Around the sixth month, the clusters are protected with a sheath. This protective bag also creates a micro-climate conducive to fruit growth.

Once the bananas have reached the desired size and enter the sleeping phase naturally, the sheaths are removed and separators are placed between each hand. This period during which the fruits slow down their respiration and therefore their ripening, is often compared to a form of hibernation. This is the time when the harvest can begin. Cut manually with a sharp gesture, the clusters, which produce up to 250 bananas, are carried over the shoulder and gently placed in bins suspended from cables running through the plantation. Once at the packing station, they are then cut into bunches, soaked and rubbed in an aluminium sulphate bath to remove any latex residue or stubborn insect.

Prepared for the long journey

The aesthetic quality of the still-green bananas is inspected by graders before packaging. Those destined for the European market must meet strict standards in terms of size, morphology and colorimetry. Those that do not conform are immediately discarded. After having been sorted, weighed and labelled, the compliant bunches are then carefully placed in perforated and aerated boxes. Quality checkers then check the information displayed on the packages, such as category, final destination and traceability code. The packages are then placed on pallets which also have bar codes. Once they arrive at the port of departure, the pallets leave in closed and ventilated cold rooms, where the temperature ranges from 13° to 14°. They will travel under these conditions so that their sleep phase will be extended for the duration of the journey.

For example, bananas produced in Africa by the Société de Culture Bananière (SCB), one of Compagnie Fruitière’s subsidiaries, are first loaded onto ships in Douala, Cameroon, then in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. Transport, which can last between 10 and 15 days, is just as important as the soil of the plantations and the sunshine or the humidity all year round. Thermometers and fans keep green bananas asleep in ship holds. A simple variation of a few tenths of a degree could trigger a too-rapid ripening, or conversely, cause curls due to the cold. Once landed in European ports, 3% of the packages (about 250 pallets) are examined in minute detail to check whether the size, curvature and even the white of the flesh conform to European standards and the indicated category. Checks are also made to ensure the fruit does not have damaged crowns or traces of latex.

Ripening and consumption

Before being delivered to traders, the fruit must still resume their ripening cycle, placed in a ripening room. In a few days, in an atmosphere controlled at about 17°, the starch is transformed into sugar, the skin turns yellow and the flesh softens. The bananas delivered to customers, which are delicious but still fragile, must be carefully extracted from their carton one bunch at a time. When stored outside a refrigerator, they can then retain their beautiful ochre colour and sweet taste for a week.