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Emergy evaluation and economic performance of banana cropping systems in Guadeloupe (French West Indies)

de Barros, Inácio, Blazy, Jean Marc, Rodrigues, Geraldo Stachetti, Tournebize, Regis, Cinna, Jean Pierre
Agriculture, ecosystems & environment 2009 v.129 no.4 pp. 437-449
Musa, bananas, economic analysis, cropping systems, sustainable agriculture, food prices, farm inputs, input output analysis, intensive farming, environmental impact, land management, decision making, natural resources, biogeochemical cycles, soil fertility, integrated agricultural systems, labor, agricultural policy, food quality, appearance (quality), European Union, Guadeloupe
Banana is the second most important agricultural commodity in Guadeloupe (French West Indies--FWI) and, to compensate the decline in international prices during the last 15 years, banana growers have intensified their production systems by increasing the use of technological inputs. Such intensification strategies, that require both material and investment increases, may impose economic as well as environmental risks, given the fragile island ecosystems. In order to assess the environmental performance of banana production in Guadeloupe, emergy synthesis methods were applied to six different types of banana cropping systems previously identified in the island. Additionally, aiming at improving managerial capacity and investment decision making, environmental performance results were contrasted with economic analysis for the six cropping systems. As a general outcome, these analyses showed that the better the environmental performance of the cropping system, the worse its economic performance. This result was corroborated by an increased contrast among cropping systems as related to their dependence on purchased inputs, although all cropping systems followed the same intensive and arguably wasteful agricultural model. Therefore, the analyses point out that sustainable banana production in Guadeloupe depends on a shift from the high fossil input model to a natural resources intensive one. In this sense, emergy flow analysis shows that innovation towards environmentally sound practices that would enhance nutrient cycling; integrate weeds, pests and diseases control; and improve the banana packing process might result in most positive impacts on overall sustainability. Economic analysis showed that the high labour costs contribute largely to the dependency of banana production on agricultural subsidies. However, reorienting the current European agricultural income policy to an environmental performance-based subvention might be a policy opportunity to achieve the present social goals while promoting sustainability in banana production. Furthermore, the EC regulation on quality standards for commercial bananas, by imposing strict aesthetic benchmarks, has a negative effect on the sustainability of banana production because substantial non-renewable and purchased emergy inflows into banana production systems aim to improve aesthetic standards over sound ecological management.