Is there money in the banana stand?


“There’s always money in the banana stand.”

That quote, from the quirky sitcom, Arrested Development, would run through my mind as I passed a row of “dukas,” or roadside stands in Kenya, lined up, one after another, all selling bananas. I’m not talking three stands in a row. I’m talking 10.

One of the things I have always loved about Kenya is the entrepreneurial spirit of the Kenyan people. They try new things and embrace change. Especially if it means their hustle puts food on the table on a regular basis, particularly for those living hand to mouth. Sometimes, though, it seems to backfire.

Going bananas

It would go like this. One day, you go by a street corner, and one guy has spread out a blanket and placed four or five clusters of bananas on display.

The next day, you pass the same street corner, and there are three banana stands, run by the original vendor, as well as another man and a woman, set up right next to him. A week later, there are eight stands lined up on that street corner. All selling bananas.

It’s a fascinating thing to watch. But isn’t it what we all do in production agriculture, to a larger scale? When markets are strong and demand exceeds supply, it’s a good time to be in (you name it) commodity. Everyone hops on board.

It’s good, until you hit a rough year or two. Then, something else emerges. And so it goes.

The same boat

At a dairy meeting, hosted by U.S. Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson in Cambria County, Pennsylvania, Aug. 12, I listened to dairy farmers talk about their situation with federal and local officials. I realized that they’re facing a situation not that different from mine, on my sheep farm. The lamb we raise hits a certain market. We work with a processor, one of the few large-scale operations left in the U.S. for lamb.

We rely on fair pricing from that processor. We rely on fair pricing from the auction, when we have to send lambs there. But if that processor goes out of business for any reason, we’d be stuck. The weekly auction can be a gamble, too.

So, my mother and I have been kicking ideas around. How do we diversify? What will our market look like in 10 years? I don’t mind providing a commodity or working within a production-oriented system. That’s how the world eats — when farmers grow affordable, plentiful food for everyone.

But I also want to make sure we’re exploring every possibility. We are constantly talking with other sheep farmers, retailers and just … other people. Everyone eats. Everyone shops. Everyone has ideas.

The next thing

At that Aug. 12 meeting, I asked U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue what the administration hoped to see accomplished, if China was no longer a trading partner.

Perdue pointed to India, saying it “has almost as many mouths as China does.” That market is more protectionist though, so it will take work, he said. He also named Japan — where there have been recent inroads for U.S. meat exports — Morocco and Korea as promising, up-and-coming trade partners. “I’d rather have a lot of smaller markets than one larger market. That’s just a business principle,” he said.

All of that is fine. Market diversity is always better than one large one. I just hope farmers consider all of the long-term angles, for their own farms, and not relying on a national trade policy to bail them out — because that’s just as dangerous as a country relying on one trade partner. Perdue pointed to the $16 billion in tariff bailouts approved this year for farmers. But where does it end?

Trade roller coaster

“The Chinese have a saying: They know how to eat bitter. They are proud of it. They will never make the mistake of depending on the United States again,” a former Mexican diplomat to China told writer Art Cullen, in The New Food Economy Aug. 12. Cullen concludes that it may drive more farmers to engage in more conservation practices and rely less on export-driven markets.

According to an evaluation by the Pierson Institute for International Economics, published Aug. 14, two new rounds of tariffs, set for Sept. 1 and Dec. 15, will hit multiple sectors, especially retail. And it could be a sign that tariffs aren’t going anywhere. “By putting off the next two rounds until the import surges have already arrived to stock this year’s back-to-school and winter holiday shopping seasons, President Trump may be coming around, albeit belatedly, to the economic evidence on the costs of his trade war,” the Pierson analysis states. “Thus far, it is American consumers and companies — and not China — who are bearing the burden of his tariffs.”

I’m not about to dive into politics on this one. Just as Perdue says it’s not good business to rely on one thing though, I would urge those of us in production agriculture to look ahead. How can we be nimble in a changing world?

About those bananas

Going back to the banana stand, how do all of these people stay in business? An interesting phenomenon would happen. If you offer a 100-shilling note (roughly $1) for a 10-shilling banana, the vendors would confer among themselves to get the right change. It may not have meant they were making the most money, but they were working together. If one was short, another helped out.

Sometimes, you strike up a conversation with one of the vendors and find that man or woman to be a pleasant sort. You learn about families and how the day is going. You develop a friendship, so you go back to that vendor, again and again — regardless of how many other banana vendors there are, or even regardless of what the others are charging. I don’t know if there is always money in those banana stands, but it seems like there were some lessons to learn there.

Regardless of how the U.S.-China trade war shakes out, for good or bad for U.S. agriculture, trade relationships won’t be the same. Existing markets will fade away. New ones will emerge. Time will tell how viable they are.

In the long run though, it’s up to you and me, not nations, to find solutions. I’ll let you know what we decide on our farm. I suspect it will have to do with the people we know and the relationships we’ve built with customers and fellow farmers that will open new doors to opportunity.

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  1. Rebecca, something to be aware of and strategize toward: Earth is cooling. Agriculture world wide is going to take a big hit and disaster stalks. Even NASA, no friend of climate realism… witness the sorry attitude lingering there thanks to James Hanson… is saying that solar cycle 25, the approximately 11 year sun spot period to start in 2020, will be the weakest in 200 years. The situation will be grave, as sun spots are proxy for the sun’s total energy output.

    And further, the inner workings of the sun are becoming known more now, as well as the effects they have on Earth. For instance, Valentina Zharkova, a Russian mathematician and solar physicist teaching in England, and her team, have recently more fully described the sun’s magnetic field cycles. They have found that the components that make up the sun’s two magnetic fields… a polar field and two counter-rotating meridional fields that lie below the surface… are entering an out-of-phase relationship with each other.

    This means that they will be close to cancelling each other out. That’s for the upcoming solar cycle 25. The cycle after that will bring even more dire consequences for food production… an almost complete cancellation of the magnetic fields. The sun’s energy output during solar cycle 25 could be comparable to the Dalton Minimum of 200 years ago… you’ve heard of “The Summer Without Sun”? Solar cycle 26, beginning about 2031, will be worse, comparable to the Maunder Minimum of 1645-1715, a time of extreme cold and wet in Europe and around the world, together with mass starvation and sickness.

    What do the sun’s magnetic fields have to do with Earth’s cooling? Quite a lot. Henrik Svensmark, a Danish astrophysicist, has demonstrated, essentially proven, that cosmic rays from outer space are responsible for up to 30% of the cloudiness experienced by Earth.

    Cosmic rays are the most energetic particles in the universe. They are mostly protons, but also some electrons and other particles. They are so energetic that some of them can pass into the earth and come out the ‘other side’. They are suspected of colliding with silicon (and other elements) deep inside Earth’s crust and heating it sufficiently to cause magma to be produced that then blows the surface apart in volcanic activity.

    When cosmic rays collide with molecules in our atmosphere, they produce showers of billions upon billions of charged particles, ions, that react with each other and with uncharged molecules in their vicinity. Many of these reactants are water molecules. They have electrons ‘knocked off’ and become charged, then react with other water molecules that are uncharged, ‘seeking’ to attain a more neutral charge overall. This forms the basis of water vapor accretion leading to clouds.

    It’s a double whammy when the sun is severely less active. Just 0.1% less energy is produced during normal 11 year sun spot cycle lows, which we hardly notice. But approximately 0.3% total energy diminishment can occur during extreme minimums, like the Dalton or the Maunder. This 0.3% is noticeable by death from cold, wet, starvation and sickness. Not only is the sun producing less optical and heat energy, with their obvious results for us on Earth, but the magnetic fields tend toward being cancelled. This allows more cosmic rays to enter our atmosphere and increase the cloudiness, since the sun’s magnetic fields, when they are strong, interfere with many of the cosmic rays before they can reach our atmosphere. Without solar magnetic fields that don’t cancel each other, we have whammy number two.

    Two good sources where you can read about this are and Electroverse has a “Crop Loss” section at the menu bar on top you would be interested in.

    While the solar science that underlays our future is terribly bad enough, the politics that is our ignorant do-nothingness forms The Perfect Storm with it. WE ARE NOT PREPARED! And we are not preparing.

    Earth now has ELEVEN TIMES as many people to feed as during the Maunder. Millions died then in Europe alone. And it looks to be happening again. What will it be now? Countries will evacuate. In addition to cold, wet, sickness and starvation can easily be added war and revolution.


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