Bananas are big business. They’re the most widely consumed fruit in the world aside from tomatoes – which, let’s admit it, are only considered fruits by botanists and sticklers – and hence are also one of the most abundantly produced and traded ones. In 2020, about 21.5 million tonnes – almost 47.5 billion pounds – of bananas were exported globally.
The banana trade doesn’t benefit only huge commercial producers; it also provides key income for small farms and independent producers throughout Latin America, the Caribbean, West Africa, and Southeast Asia. Bananas are the most important export commodity in multiple countries. (Learn why bananas are radioactive, and other surprising food facts.)
24/7 Tempo has compiled a list of the countries that export most of the world’s bananas by reviewing data from the International Trade Centre. Countries were ranked based on the quantity of bananas, both fresh and dried (but not including plantains), that they exported in 2020.
Note that countries that export bananas don’t necessarily grow them. High-ranking nations on the list like The Netherlands, Belgium, and the U.S. import huge quantities and then distribute them to other countries. (In the U.S., bananas are grown in commercial quantities only in Hawaii, and the yield is insignificant in an international context. As far as The Netherlands goes, it was big news in late 2021 when a greenhouse there produced 1,600 pieces of the fruit.)
In addition, the appearance of France on the list is due to banana production in two of the country’s overseas territories – Martinique and Guadeloupe. China, Brazil, and Indonesia are major producers of bananas, but are not included in the report, as most of the fruit they grow is consumed in-country. India, the world’s largest banana-grower, makes the list, but only at No. 18, for the same reason.
As bananas grow best in the tropics, the regions producing most of the world’s bananas include Central America, equatorial South America, West Africa, and South and Southeast Asia. Two of the top producers of bananas – Ecuador and the Philippines – are also the two top exporters, accounting for nearly 34% of all banana exports.
One locale that is glaringly underrepresented on this list is the Caribbean. Banana exports from the region have fallen dramatically since a trade rule was enacted in the 1990s forcing the EU to stop its preferential treatment of former colonies in the Caribbean. This hurt small Caribbean banana producers, as they couldn’t compete with the low prices offered by mechanized farms in Latin America, many of which are run by or supply U.S.-based multinational companies with big names like Chiquita, Dole, and DelMonte.