March 19, 2009

Peeling Plantains in La Bomba, Jutiapa, Honduras

Peeling plantains, La Bomba, Jutiapa, HondurasGirls helping out the family budget

plantains, La Bomba, Jutiapa, HondurasThe following video was taken at a empacadora (packing plant) in La Bomba, Jutiapa. Local small farmers sell their plátano (plantain) crop to the empacadora who in turn has a contract to provide peeled plantains to a processing company in San Pedro where the packaged tajadas are made. Larger plantation owners are more likely to develop their own contracts directly so that they can receive better prices.

platanos, La Bomba, Jutiapa, HondurasCurrently, a plátano sells for about L. 4 (US $ 0.21), but they were as high as about L. 4.50 when the price of fuel was elevated. When we came to Honduras in 2001, plátanos were selling for two for one lempira (about US $0.03 each at the exchange rate at that time). Since boiled or fried plátanos and bananas are a staple of the Honduran diet, the increase in price has had a big effect on the family budget of poor folks.

Packaged tajadas are thin, crispy, salty, fried plátano or banana slices. Though plantains and bananas are very similar, you can tell the difference because bananas will have a whitish or greyish look, while fried plátanos will be bright yellow. Tajadas are Honduras' preferred answer to potato chips and they can be bought just about anywhere, from the tiniest little plastic bags to giant family size bags, as well as homemade which are generally thicker slices.

Peeling plantains, La Bomba, Jutiapa, HondurasGenerally, plátanos verdes (green plantains) are peeled by cutting off the narrow pointy ends, then running a knife blade through the thick peel lengthwise. Then either using a knife or fingers, the peel is pried open and then peeled off sideways. The simple technique of peeling back the skin in sections as most people are familiar with doing with ripe bananas does not work on green bananas or plantains. The skin is much thicker and tougher and much more securely attached to the fruit.

Peeling plantains, La Bomba, Jutiapa, HondurasThe women and children in this video are paid L.14 (US $ 0.74) per plastic crate full of peeled plantains. The plastic crates hold about 40 pounds of peeled fruit. The peelers generally work in pairs or families form a group working together. You'll see in the video that one person does the knife work, while another peels the skin off.

Peeling plantains, La Bomba, Jutiapa, HondurasAs each crate is filled, the tally man keeps track of the number of crates per group. The peeled plátanos are packed in large bags and loaded onto a truck, which will carry them to San Pedro Sula, about 3-4 hours away.

Plantains blacken pretty quickly after peeling, especially if any small part of the peel is left attached. Keeping the plantains in water as long as possible helps to prevent this. I'm not quite sure how that problem is handled during the waiting and shipping time. Peeling green plantains also leaves a sticky latex residue on the hands that will turn black and is very difficult to remove. The latex also ruins the workers clothes.

plantain peels, La Bomba, Jutiapa, HondurasThe peels are not used for composting and enriching the soil for future crops, because Honduran farmers are generally pretty attached to their chemicals despite the ever-increasing cost. The peels are taken in this small trailer to be fed to cows, who are said to love them, so at least they don't go to waste.

plantains, La Bomba, Jutiapa, HondurasIn this area of plantain production, plátano rustlers, often young boys on horseback, scout around the plantain fields for ripened crop. A cell phone call to his compatriots alert them to the area where the thieves swoop in and steal the plantains. Most plantation owners must have guards to protect their crops.

So here is the video, I think you'll like it:

Even though the pay isn't much, it appears that these people are happy to have a job.
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