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Plummeting Banana Prices Force Farmers Feed Fruit to Livestock
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Plummeting prices have forced banana growers in south China's Hainan Province to feed the dried fruit to their livestock.

A woman resident from Jiaochang Village in Tayang Town, Qionghai City on the east coast of Hainan Province, said prices for bananas were so low that feeding pigs and domestic fowl with bananas was all they could do to avoid seeing the fruit rot in the fields.

On Monday, bananas were being bought for only 0.26 yuan a kilo in the village, said the woman.

Gone are the days when businesspeople from Beijing and Shanghai offering good prices would arrive just as the banana trees reached harvest time, said another woman identified as Zhang in Fuxi Village in Chengmai County, another key banana growing base in Hainan.

"We sold our bananas for three yuan a kilo last year and we didn't have to go out looking for buyers," said Zhang.

Zhang, from central China's Hunan Province, came to Hainan with her husband with dreams of becoming rich. They sold their house in their home town and took out a loan of 180,000 yuan, investing all the money in growing bananas.

"Bananas are tender tropical fruit and when the temperature is above 30 degrees Celsius ripe ones only last for about three days before they start to rot," said Zhang. "My husband has to go out before dawn every day to find a buyer."

The main cause of the banana price drama appears to be over-supply. According to Xiao Jie, chief of the Hainan Provincial Bureau of Agriculture, 50,000 hectares of banana trees were planted across Hainan Island this year.

According to him, some 490,000 tons of bananas have been transported out of Hainan since early April, a massive rise of 210,000 tons on the same period last year. In a classic case of supply and demand, the glut of the fruit has depressed prices.

Hainan produces one sixth of the country's total banana output.

But locals said malicious text messages -- saying bananas produced in Hainan might be unsafe because of the use of chemical agents in processing and that there was a risk they might spread the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus -- were another factor in the banana price collapse.

Meng Xuru, director of the Hainan Provincial office for the development of South Asian tropical crops, said the text messaging had dealt a severe blow to locally produced bananas.

"There was a lot of text messaging in late April -- the very moment when banana trees enter the harvest season. There was very little of it on the island but it was rampant in major cities on the Chinese mainland, where Hainan bananas are consumed," said the official.

Meng declined to give an exact figure regarding the economic losses for Hainan.

Zhang Xiyan, China's chief banana expert, rubbished the notion that bananas can contain SARS virus as ludicrous and fear-mongering.

"These rumors have been created out of thin air. SARS is a human disease that spreads from one person to another. It will never jump to plants, just like human influenza can never spread to plants," said Zhang.

(Xinhua News Agency June 6, 2007)

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