Thomasville Times Enterprise

Local News

January 3, 2014

South Georgia going bananas?

TIFTON — Greg Fonsah, a College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences economist, has created his own little corner of the tropics on the University of Georgia Tifton campus. Less than 100 yards away from his office, Fonsah walks through row after row of tall broad-leafed foliage. A quick smile is evident as he swings his machete to and fro, shearing away leaves and branches as he goes.

Though the plot stands within sight of the much-traveled road in front of the UGA Tifton Campus Conference Center and is visible from Interstate 75, few realize exactly what it contains. Amid the experts who deal in peanuts, cotton, vegetables and tobacco, Fonsah likes to tell people about his beautiful field of bananas.

Bananas?

“This is not a surprise to me,” said Fonsah in his thick accent that has never left the Cameroon native. “Most of my colleagues said it would not be possible to grow bananas here. But because the conditions are similar, I knew it was possible. The bananas here are different, but they are very good.”

While unique, Fonsah and colleagues actually started their banana research in Savannah in 2002 before starting a project in Tifton in 2009. The professor has an extensive background in the field, working for Del Monte and Aloha Farms for almost 15 years before coming to UGA in 2001. He believes banana production can be an entirely new and unique field for Georgia farmers, and he said the interest is already there. Although Fonsah says more studies need to be done, farmers are already calling him for information.

One fact is not in dispute — Americans love bananas and lots of them. According to Fonsah, bananas are the most commonly consumed fresh fruit in the country, and consumption rose from 7 pounds per person in 1970 to 10.4 pounds per person in 2010. Nearly all of those bananas, an estimated 99 percent by Fonsah, come from overseas.

 “The United States spends $1.9 billion on bananas every year,” Fonsah said. “That’s bananas and plantains. But there’s no reason all of that money has to go somewhere else. The weather is conducive for cold-hardy and short-cycled banana cultivars here, and with the diverse cultural backgrounds, there is a niche market for bananas.”

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