Students from co-operative schools had a tasty start to Fairtrade Fortnight, making banana splits during a banana-videoconference at the same time as learning about the difference Fairtrade and co-operatives make to producers in the developing world.

Before they created their delicious banana treats, participating students, from co-operative schools across England, were introduced to banana producer Demetrio Jimenez via video link-up. Demetrio is from COOBANA, a 320-member co-operative in Panama, which has been Fairtrade certified since 2010. The co-operative works with European Fairtrade importer and distributor Agrofair, and its bananas are sold by the Co-operative Group in the UK, which organised Demetrio’s tour of the UK.

Demetrio told students about the difference Fairtrade has made to his community, which has included better health care and living conditions. He explained: ““Before we got involved in Fairtrade it was really hard for us to improve our living conditions and working conditions. We got a great price for our products and now we are able to invest in our community”.”

Demetrio explained that his role is to supervise the growing, processing and packing of bananas, and that the process lasts a year from sowing to packing bananas. Becoming Fairtrade certified has meant the co-operative has had to raise quality standards -– which includes discarding more bananas. The dream is to grow the business to produce 1 million boxes of bananas, with 100 bananas per box.

Students asked Demetrio insightful questions such as, ‘’Did you know about Fairtrade before you got into Fairtrade’’, ‘’Are all the banana growers in the co-operative and if not would they like to be’’, ‘’Do you enjoy your new life under Fairtrade?’’, ‘‘Can you buy more things now?’’ and ‘‘Do you think if all bananas were produced under co-operative and Fairtrade conditions it would help reduce global inequality?’’.

During the videoconference, students played a ‘‘Banana split trade game’’, a role play activity for which students were told a non-Fairtrde banana costs about 30p in the UK, then divided into groups representing the different stages in the banana supply chain – banana growers, plantation owners, importers and ripeners, shippers and shops and supermarkets – to negotiate who got what share of the banana’s profits.

Demetrio then explained that the co-operative now gets about 5.5p per banana thanks to Fairtrade, up from 2p, but costs are also rising. The co-operative still faces issues such as the rising price of food in Panama, and the price of fertiliser going up as much of it is produced from oil. This means the co-operative has not been able to raise salaries.

Students also heard from Catherine Dishington from the Co-operative Group’s Ethical Trading team, who explained the Group’s work with Fairtrade and ethical sourcing.

Students also had their knowledge of bananas tested with a challenging banana quiz, and came up with ideas how consumers in the UK can help producers in the developing world, from making sure to buy Fairtrade products to advertising Fairtrade and developing exciting recipes.

The morning culminated in schools working together to make their own, co-operative versions of the classic banana split dessert, as staff from the Co-operative College demonstrated on camera, customised with toppings of their choice.