It all began in 1996 with a visit of Bert Beekman, founding director of the Dutch Max Havelaar Foundation, who was looking for cargo space for the sea transport of a few pallets of Fairtrade bananas to Europe. Mike Port was curious, did some research and soon became inspired by the Fairtrade idea. The ideals and standards of the Fairtrade system were a perfect fit for the family-run group who had always been cultivating long-term and cooperative trade relations with their suppliers. But transport alone was not enough for Mike Port. “If you’re going to do it, do it right”, he thought and decided to sell and promote Fairtrade bananas himself by launching the brand “Fairnando”.
As the Fairtrade seal was still largely unknown, the consumer interest was quite low and there were only a few stores that were willing to list Fairtrade products at that time. In addition to these problems there were also quality problems in the origin which made the start of the project difficult.
At the end of 1997, the weather phenomenon “El Niño” occurred in South America and caused heavy rains and flooding in the growing areas. All bananas in the region were affected so that the Fairtrade experiment with the first retailer operating throughout Germany failed.
Starting to import bananas under Fairtrade conditions required a lot of development work. The Fairtrade concept aims at supporting small growers and producers and providing them access to the global market. Most of these growers did not have any experience in exporting their bananas and just produced them for their own needs or sold them on the local market. Therefore, the quality of the first deliveries was very unbalanced and it took some time to bring all producers on a consistent level of quality. During that time, Mike Port strongly supported the producers with his knowledge about the production and the export of bananas.
Import of bananas today
The perseverance shown by Port during these difficult first years was rewarded in the end. The network of the producers who sent their Fairtrade bananas to Europe grew steadily. Today, more than 3000 Fairtrade-certified farmers belong to the network profiting from stable banana prices all year long and an additional Fairtrade premium.
Today, Fairtrade bananas play at the top of their league and more than 90 percent of the imported Fairtrade bananas now come with the organic certification, too. This is the success of Fairtrade made possible by stable Fairtrade prices and the additional Fairtrade premium which enables farmers to get certified according to the EU organic regulation.
The consistency, sustainability and perseverance of Mike Port and his commitment to Fairtrade since 1997 impressed the German Fairtrade organization Transfair e.V. so much that they awarded him the Fairtrade Award 2012.
The Fairtrade Award was a confirmation of the success of 15 years of trading Fairtrade bananas but also an acknowledgment of the Port family’s expertise in the banana import.