Bananas bring smiles as farmer visits school

From left, Kirsty Clarke, 13, Andrew Palmer, 13, farmer Julio Mercado Cantillo and Anastasia Lonergan, 14 Picture: Allan Hutchings (160389-221)
From left, Kirsty Clarke, 13, Andrew Palmer, 13, farmer Julio Mercado Cantillo and Anastasia Lonergan, 14 Picture: Allan Hutchings (160389-221)
Bosmere Junior School, Havant

Hampshire schools built in the 1980s deemed of historic importance to the UK

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HIS homegrown bananas are tended with love and bring a smile to people all over the world.

Pupils at Oaklands Catholic School in Waterlooville drew plenty of inspiration as they heard the incredible story of Julio Mercado Cantillo, a banana farmer from Colombia.

The 57-year-old dad-of-eight runs a Fairtrade banana farm.

He has battled against the odds, including threats of revolutionary and guerilla groups in the historically unstable country, to help found his own co-operative of banana producers, BANAFRUCOOP.

After working on the family banana farm for 27 years, he joined forces with 25 other small-scale farmers in 2006 to form a co-operative and compete on the international market.

The group now has 40 producers, including 13 women, who grow premium quality Cavendish bananas.

Using Fairtrade standards, such as reducing chemical pesticides, has increased the demand for local labour, meaning that more than 400 people have jobs.

Children enjoyed hearing Julio’s story yesterday.

Andrew Palmer, 13, from Portsmouth, said: ‘I didn’t know how big farms were until I saw it in the pictures.’

Andrew helps to run a Fairtrade stall at the school, but banana as a fruit is not his favourite.

‘I like banana cake,’ he added.

‘Fairtrade is a good movement. It really helps farmers like Julio in different countries.’

Kirsty Clarke, 13, from Havant, said: ‘It’s quite amazing thinking these bananas have come all the way from Colombia.’

Anastasia Lonergan, 14, from Havant, said: ‘You just go to the supermarket, buy a banana and eat it. You don’t really think about the effort that’s gone into growing them.’

Julio, speaking through an interpreter, said the secret to great bananas was ‘giving them love’.

‘I enjoy being a banana producer and I am also very proud,’ he said.