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. Until the 1960s this included commercial production of bananas.
In 1941, the first bananas in Iceland were produced. They have been produced since that time, about 100 clusters a year each about 5–20 kg (11–44 lb), but are not currently sold. 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 to as late as 1958 or 1959. In 1960, the government removed import duties on fruit. 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.
The urban myth that Iceland is Europe’s largest producer or exporter of bananas has been propagated in various books and other media. It was mentioned, in an episode of the BBC quiz programme QI, and on a forum connected with the show. According to FAO statistics, the largest European producer of bananas is France (in Martinique and Guadeloupe), followed by Spain (primarily in the Canary Islands). Other banana-producing countries in Europe include Portugal (on Madeira), Greece (primarily in southern Crete), Cyprus, Turkey and Italy.
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 (40 lb) per capita per annum. 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.
- Metcalfe, Robyn. 2019. Food Routes: Growing Bananas in Iceland and Other Tales from the Logistics of Eating. MIT Press.
- "Hvenær voru bananar fyrst ræktaðir á Íslandi?" (in Icelandic). Retrieved 27 January 2015.
- "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.
- "Eru bananar ræktaðir á Íslandi og seldir í stórum stíl til útlanda?" (in Icelandic). Retrieved 27 January 2015.
- "Bananalýðveldið Ísland" [Iceland, banana republic]. Fréttablaðið (in Icelandic). Reykjavik. 1 December 2007. p. 42. Retrieved 3 October 2013.
- "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.
- "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.
- "Verðlækkun ávaxta" [Fruit prices down]. Alþýðublaðið (in Icelandic). Reykjavik. 28 February 1960. p. 1. Retrieved 3 October 2013.
- Alex Baumhardt. "The Mythical Banana Kingdom Of Iceland". Archived 2014-05-31 at the Wayback Machine Reykjavík Grapevine.
- "Q.I. - Biggest Banana Republic in Europe". YouTube. Archived from the original on 2021-12-12. Retrieved 23 January 2010.
- "QI Talk Forum". Retrieved 3 October 2013.
- http://faostat3.fao.org/browse/Q/QC/E (see in particular the data for Europe as a whole and Spain)
- Statistics Iceland (imports of bananas in 2009)