September 30, 2006


Efforts to Achieve Sustainable Banana Production - Chiquita Unifrutti Japan,Ltd.

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.49 (September 2006)
Toward a Sustainable Japan--Corporations at Work Article Series No.50

When someone asks children to name their favorite fruit, bananas are usually near the top of the list. Bananas are nutritious, easy to eat, and one of the most popular fruit eaten in Japan. The Japanese eat about one million tons of these fruit every year, although very few grow here because of climate and geography. Most bananas consumed here are imported, and 89 percent of imports came from the Philippines in 2005.

Chiquita Unifrutti Japan, Ltd. was founded in 1962, as a foothold in the Asian market for the import and sale of bananas produced by U.S.-based banana producer Chiquita Brands International Inc. (CBI). The company's name was initially Kyokuto Fruits Co., but this was to the current name in 2000, when DeNadai of Italy became a major investor in the company. Chiquita Unifrutti Japan mainly imports Chiquita-brand bananas and pineapples and sells them in Asia. As of January 2006, 51 people worked for the company.

Believing that protecting the natural environment is essential to ensure quality and safety of the fruit, the CBI is active in conserving tropical rainforests and supporting local communities where the bananas are grown. To promote environmental activities and improve credibility, the CBI works on the Better Banana Project (BBP) together with the Rainforest Alliance, an environmental organization.

The Rainforest Alliance is an international non-governmental organization engaged in rainforest conservation. It promotes a sustainable agriculture program to improve agricultural management in the tropical regions from the perspectives of both environmental protection and social contribution. The BBP is a part of this program, which also includes several projects targeting other plantation products, such as coffee beans, oranges and sugar canes.

The BBP certifies products that meet its own nine criteria, which include protecting tropical forests, conserving wildlife, paying attention to soil pollution, properly managing waste, and treating workers fairly. The BBP-certified crops and food products are awarded the Frog Seal for meeting the standards for sustainable produce set by the Rainforest Alliance.

Chiquita's 119 banana plantations in Costa Rica, Columbia, Guatemala and other Central and South American countries are operated and managed under stringent criteria that include banning the use of chemical fertilizers, limiting the use of agrichemicals, preventing water pollution and conserving water resources. In fact, all the plantations had acquired BBP certification by 2002. Every bunch of bananas produced there is shipped to Europe and North America with the frog seal.

Chiquita bananas exported to Asian countries are grown mainly on plantations in the Philippines operated by Chiquita Unifrutti Asia. These plantations started their efforts to obtain BBP certification later than in Central and South America, but two plantations (one including a packing house) succeeded in obtaining certification in 2002.

Bananas grown on one of these plantations (run by Mt. Kitanglad Agri Venture Inc., on the uplands in Central Mindanao in the southern Philippines) are exported to Japan under the "Chiquita Precious" brand. Chiquita Unifrutti Japan began marketing them as environmentally friendly bananas at the end of 2005 by attaching the Rainforest Alliance certification mark, a seal of a green frog. They were the first bananas to bear the frog seal in Japan, since food products bearing the seal were limited only to certain coffee products until then.

These efforts to grow and trade BBP-certified Precious bananas offer three environmental and social benefits. First, the bananas are grown by eco-friendly, sustainable methods. Second, growers are guaranteed a fair wage for their labor so that their standard of living can be improved. Third, everyone involved in every process, from growing to distributing, can enjoy better profits because Precious bananas can be sold at higher prices than other bananas due to their high quality and better taste. Although the market for these bananas is still small, the sales volume is increasing as retailers are actively working to promote sales. The export volume of Precious bananas with the frog seal is expected to grow since the Mt. Kitanglad Agri Venture plans to obtain BBP certification for another packing house on its property in 2006.

Using the opportunity of the start of sales of Precious bananas, Chiquita Unifrutti Japan intends to step up efforts to improve consumer communication on its environmental activities, making use of the frog seal program and publicizing the activities of the Rainforest Alliance in Japan.

One of the first activities of Chiquita Unifrutti Japan is the opening of the Rainforest Lounge in Minato Ward, Tokyo, for a limited time, from September 16 to October 15, 2006. The lounge, organized together with Key Coffee Inc., which sells Rainforest Alliance-certified coffee, was set up to provide the public with opportunities to remember the importance of the environment through coffee and bananas. Both companies hope that visitors will get to know in a relaxed atmosphere the Rainforest Alliance certification and frog seal as well as be able to participate in the rainforest conservation project by experiencing certified coffee and banana sweets.

During the event, an entire cafe-restaurant is reserved for the lounge. Decorated in the image of a rainforest, the lounge is used to introduce the Rainforest Alliance activities to visitors in an interesting way. A variety of original drinks and sweets made of Rainforest Alliance-certified coffee and bananas are offered there.

In addition, Chiquita Unifrutti Japan, in partnership with convenience stores that focus on environment- and health-conscious consumers, plans a campaign in which consumers can win prizes by collecting frog seals. The company has steadily promoted environmental communication on various fronts such as by issuing the Chiquita's Corporate Social Responsibility report in Japanese and introducing Rainforest Alliance activities in its newsletters for the distribution industry.

Generally, Japan lags some countries in sustainable agriculture. In fact, less than two percent agricultural products on the market here have acquired the legally-recognized Japanese Agricultural Standards certification for organic agricultural products. Since bananas are one of the most popular fruits in Japan, efforts by Chiquita Unifrutti Japan to promote BBP-certified bananas will help increase the Japanese public's awareness of the importance of sustainable agriculture.

(Staff Writer Eriko Saijo)