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Half of Costa Rica?s banana crop flooded

At least four Costa Ricans were killed, 16,000 people were evacuated and thousands of acres of bananas were destroyed when record-breaking rains struck the Caribbean coasts of Costa Rica and northern Panama Jan. 8. While the worst rainfall was on Jan. 8, the downpour didn?t end until Jan. 13.

Dole, Chiquita and Del Monte all have major production in the stricken region, while "Banacol has a farm with a couple hundred hectares impacted. Banacol did not have as much damage as the other companies," Tim Debus, executive director of the International Banana Association in Washington, DC, told The Produce News Jan. 17.

According to Costa Rica?s English language newspaper, The Tico Times, rainfall reached record levels Saturday at Costa Rica?s National Meteorological Institute?s checkpoint in the Caribbean port city Lim?n, when 13.5 inches fell in 24 hours. In one day, the downpour surpassed the average rainfall for the month by more than 1.5 inches and broke the 1970 record for rainfall in one day in a January, which was 10.9 inches. The average precipitation for all January in Lim?n is 11.9 inches. During the days of this emergency, the region received 21.88 inches of rain.

According to Mr. Debus, Costa Rican and Panamanian flooding has "severely damaged the areas? infrastructure " and caused heavy losses to thousands of hectares of banana production. The governments of both Costa Rica and Panama declared states of emergency in the affected areas."

According to the IBA, Costa Rica is a principal supplier of bananas to the U.S. market, accounting for approximately 22 percent of the bananas imported into the United States in 2004. Banana exports from Panama contribute less than 1 percent of the overall U.S. banana supply, as most bananas from Panama go to European markets.

Banana production in Costa Rica occurs on about 40,000 hectares. Approximately half of the country?s 90 million to 100 million boxes exported each year are destined for the United States.

?Despite the anticipated loss of banana exports from Costa Rica this year as a result of the floods, it is still uncertain at this time what the impact of the flood damage will have on U.S. banana supply in 2005," Mr. Debus said. "IBA members in the region are working with government and other relief organizations to secure the safety of the people and the recovery of their properties and livelihoods. Once stability is restored in the areas, IBA members will be able to better assess the effects of this disaster on banana production and operations."

Mr. Debus said that unofficial and early government estimates were that infrastructure losses totaled $20 million because of the flooding. "One of the main roads to [the port city] La Moin is shut off, so growers are losing their chance to conduct exports."

Mr. Debus and news reports both indicated that bananas were the predominant crop in the flooded area, though some pineapple acreage was also affected. The Costa Rican banana company Corbana indicated to Mr. Debus on Jan. 14 that 2,000 hectares (5,000 acres) of bananas were flooded. Mr. Debus said that industry estimates will become more accurate with time.

The immediate impact of the storm means that Costa Rica "will not able to harvest and have normal business operations at this time," Mr. Debus said. With roads destroyed, "they can?t export. We will see some impact as the year progresses, with new plants replanted."

While the banana plants were not blown down as they might be in a hurricane, there is a danger that root systems are damaged by standing water, so the quality of production from standing plants will be negatively impacted. "The longer the water stands, the worse it is," Mr. Debus said.

Mr. Debus noted that banana companies have the flexibility to source from a variety of growing areas. He expects the companies losing fruit in Costa Rica and Panama will be looking for supplies from other countries, such as Ecuador, Colombia, Guatemala and Honduras "until there is fruit from Costa Rica again."

The International Banana Association is the trade organization for the banana importers and marketers in North America. IBA works to defend and improve the financial health of the members? banana business.

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