Banana production in Iceland

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Bananas growing in a greenhouse in Iceland

Although Iceland is reliant upon fishing, tourism and aluminium production as the mainstays of its economy, the production of vegetables and fruit in greenhouses is a growing sector. At one point, this included bananas. The first attempts at growing bananas in Iceland occurred in the 1930s.[1] In the wake of World War II, the combination of inexpensive geothermal power (which had recently become available) and high prices for imported fruit led to the construction of a number of greenhouses where bananas were produced commercially from 1945[2] to as late as 1958[3] or 1959.[4] In 1960, the government removed import duties on fruit.[5] As a consequence, domestically grown bananas were no longer able to compete with imported ones and soon disappeared from the market. Icelandic banana production was much slower due to low levels of sunlight; Icelandic bananas took two years to mature while it only takes a few months near the equator.[6]

The urban myth according to which Iceland is currently Europe’s largest producer and/or exporter of bananas has been propagated in various books as well as in other media. It was mentioned, for example, in an episode of the BBC quiz programme QI,[7] and was mentioned on a forum connected with the show.[8] However, according to FAO statistics, the largest European producer of bananas is (and has been for decades) Spain,[9] with around 90 per cent of the total (although the production is mostly confined to the Canary Islands, which lie off the coast of Africa). Other banana-producing countries in Europe include Portugal, Greece and Italy.

Consequently, although a small number of banana plants still exist in greenhouses and produce fruit every year, Iceland imports nearly all of the bananas consumed in the country, with imports now amounting to over 18 kg per capita per annum.[10] The Agricultural University of Iceland maintains the last such farm with 600-700 banana plants in its tropical greenhouse, which were received as donations from producers when they shut down (then the Horticultural College). Bananas grown there are consumed by the students and staff and are not sold.[6]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Bananarækt á framtíð fyrir sér á Íslandi" [Banana growing may have a future in Iceland]. Vísir (in Icelandic) (Reykjavik). 10 July 1943. p. 3. Retrieved 3 October 2013. 
  2. ^ "Bananalýðveldið Ísland" [Iceland, banana republic]. Fréttablaðið (in Icelandic) (Reykjavik). 1 December 2007. p. 42. Retrieved 3 October 2013. 
  3. ^ "200 bananaplöntur á garðyrkjuskólanum gefa af sér ávexti" [200 banana plants bear fruit at School of Horticulture]. Alþýðublaðið (in Icelandic) (Reykjavik). 13 July 1958. p. 1. Retrieved 3 October 2013. 
  4. ^ "Íslenzk frímerki í fána á afmælistertu Sir Winstons Churchills" [Icelandic stamps on flag decorating Sir Winston Churchill’s birthday cake]. Morgunblaðið (in Icelandic) (Reykjavik). 3 December 1959. p. 3. Retrieved 3 October 2013. 
  5. ^ "Verðlækkun ávaxta" [Fruit prices down]. Alþýðublaðið (in Icelandic) (Reykjavik). 28 February 1960. p. 1. Retrieved 3 October 2013. 
  6. ^ a b Alex Baumhardt. "The Mythical Banana Kingdom Of Iceland". Reykjavík Grapevine.
  7. ^ "Q.I. - Biggest Banana Republic in Europe". Retrieved 23 January 2010. 
  8. ^ "QI Talk Forum". Retrieved 3 October 2013. 
  9. ^ http://faostat.fao.org/site/567/DesktopDefault.aspx?PageID=567 (see in particular the data for Europe as a whole and Spain)
  10. ^ Statistics Iceland (imports of bananas in 2009)