Working by hand for maximum quality
Each banana processed at the Diana Food factory in Ecuador passes through the hands of the employees, who ensure top quality by peeling the fruit manually. They process three dozen sweet bananas per minute, which are then used to produce purees, flakes and powder.
of the bananas processed by Diana Food in Ecuador are organic, the rest come from conventional agriculture.
Growing trend toward organic banana
Every single banana that the company, founded in 1961, processes comes from one of the plantations within a 60-kilometer radius of its location. About 25 % are organic – with that number quickly growing. The rest are grown under conventional agricultural practices. One of the organic farmers is Gary Mendieta, who runs one of his three comparably small farms in the mountains. Up to 1,500 plants grow on each of the eight hectares. He and his team of five are always busy. They cut off the plants’ large excess leaves, keep the ground cleared, protect the seed heads of the three- or four-meter-high plants with plastic bags that let in light and air but keep out insects and birds. Each plant location has two to three harvests a year. “We cut off the plant that bore fruit. Its daughter is growing next to it, and right here the granddaughter, which forms the next generation,” Mendieta explains.
A worker carefully cuts down the plant when the fruit is still green. A second catches the shoot, which can weigh up to 50 kilograms, on a piece of hard foam and carries it on their shoulder to the collection point. Here the fruits are washed and sorted. With a trained eye, a worker sorts out the bananas that don’t have the desired curve, size or that have spots. That applies to about 10 %. “Exporters to the fresh market want perfectly formed fruit,” said Hector Bonnard. “We only take those bananas for our site in Pasaje that aren’t suited for the fresh fruit market.” The agronomist has been working for Diana Food for two years. He and his colleagues visit the plantations every two weeks, advise the farmers and make sure that everything – from planting to fertilizing and weed and pest control all the way through to the harvesting and sorting of fruit – is done according to the company’s standards. In addition to supplying enough nutrients, irrigation also plays an important role. “The banana is a lady. She doesn’t like having wet feet,” Bonnard explains with a smile. That’s why water supply and drainage systems have to work perfectly.
The agricultural experts at Diana Food have a lot of experience in the industry. “And we have a very good relationship based on trust with the farmers,” says Bonnard. “At the same time, we set high standards and keep documentation so that we can trace the raw materials back to the plantation at any time.”
The banana is a lady. She doesn’t like having wet feet.Hector Bonnard, Agronomist at Diana Food
Once the bananas have been processed into a fine paste free of germs and foreign bodies, they’re dehydrated and treated at high heat in six drum dryers. The dry product, which has an intensive banana flavor, is then processed into flakes. Another application is the purified puree, which is used in baby food, for instance.
More than an economic factor
Ecuador offers the ideal conditions for growing bananas. The soil quality is excellent; it has a tropical climate but is not affected by hurricanes, and the rainy season is relatively short. One plus of these environmental conditions is that less pesticides and fertilizers have to be used for farming. This naturally also encourages the spread of organic farming practices. This has helped make the country the fourth-largest banana producer and largest banana exporter in the world. The industry belongs to the biggest employers in this country, which lies in the northwest of South America between Colombia and Peru. Almost one million people work on roughly 220,000 hectares of plantations, especially in the three western provinces of Los Rios, Guayas and El Oro – the latter of which has the most plantations with a staggering 4,500. This is also where Diana Food has the Pasaje factory. The country exports about 90 % of the bananas it produces, especially to Europe and the USA.
Harry Veintimilla is the President of Ecosfera, a regional environmental consulting firm.
“Since 2009, as a consulting company certified by the country of Ecuador, we have been working with Diana Food to make the entire production more sustainable. We started with a major study to measure noise emissions, for example, as well as the quality of the wastewater and air. Based on that, we advise the facility on how the company can better achieve its environmental goals. A company is awarded our environmental seal if 50 % of our standards are adhered to – Diana Food is at 90 %, making it one of the top 10 companies in the region.”
Talia Navarrete is a member of the local council in Pasaje.
“Diana Food makes an important contribution to our community at numerous levels. The company put the town and the region on the map for this industry – bananas are the most important source of income and a company like this helps us be strong economically. It also ensures that reliable work is available and is a stable partner, especially in times when our economy is being rocked by crises. And finally, the company is involved in our schools and the infrastructure, which we, as a community, are very happy about.”
Sandra Estupiñan works at Diana Food as a banana peeler.
“I’ve had the same job here for 14 years. I work four days a week for twelve hours each day. And even though it’s tough and sometimes a bit monotonous, I am really happy. Our group sticks together; some of us take turns being in charge. I’ve done that a number of times. And above all, working here is a secure job. We get paid on time and there are a lot of positive things, like the free meals in the cafeteria or the health care.”
José Santillán is the Head of Environmental and Occupational Safety at Diana Food.
“Achieving the highest occupational safety possible in our factory is one of our main goals. I spend the whole day, from Monday to Friday, going through the factory to see where there could be risks. That allows us to recognize and repair weaknesses immediately. We also train our employees, provide safety clothing for them and make sure that it is worn. By doing so, we’ve ensured that there hasn’t been a single major accident in the past years.”
Ivanova Sánchez is a food engineer and works as a Quality Assistant at Diana Food. She won the talent show that the company hosts for its employees.
“Our production has many certificates, for example, BRC. It attests to the fact that we have a working management system in food safety. My job, among other things, is to make sure we adhere to the standards with our products here in the laboratory. To do so, we perform checks of the purees and flakes regularly.”
Neira Lapo César Stalin enters lists of raw materials into the computer. He is one of about 4 % of the employees at Pasaje site who have a disability.
“I have been deaf since birth, but I can read lips and communicate with my colleagues. We have a great team in which everyone looks out for one another. I enjoy my job because I like working at a computer. This was a great opportunity for me, because it was very difficult for me, as someone with deafness, to find a job.”
Giovanni Navas runs the “Divina Misericordia Albergue,” a home for people living with disability.
“There is no public system in Ecuador that supports people with mental illness who are stranded. As a result, our shelter relies on donations. Symrise let its employees decide which project its donations should benefit. We received € 6,000. We were able to buy a number of hospital beds and a new washing machine, which we would not have been able to afford otherwise.”