gebana is turning 20!

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Join us on a journey back to our beginnings, through all the ups and downs of our 20 very eventful and moving years.

1973 is the year the "banana women" arrive on the scene. A group of women begins demonstrating in the streets in order to raise awareness of the harsh working conditions on banana plantations and how these conditions are responsible for keeping banana prices low in Switzerland. The group gains momentum and becomes a movement. They cause quite a sensation with campaigns such as applying a surcharge to banana sales, which they invest in projects on the banana plantations. They eventually become directly involved in the banana trade. When the first fair trade certified bananas hit the market in 1997, the banana women – known by then as "Verein gebana" (short for "Arbeitsgemeinschaft gerechter Bananenhandel" or "Fair Trade Working Group for Bananas") – seem to have reached their goal.

But they feel they have not yet done enough. Does setting criteria and introducing a label actually make trade fairer? Not at all. The board of the gebana association firmly believes that there is still much more to do. This is the moment when gebana, as we know it today, comes into being.


gebana is founded as a trading company in August 1998. The goal is to develop retail chains that are socially, environmentally and economically sustainable, thereby making global trade fairer. The first product it sets up to trade is organic soy from small family farmers in Paraná, Brazil.


In a shady move, the Dutch import partner delivers the first shipments of organic soy from Brazil, pre-financed by gebana, to its own customers instead of gebana. The newly founded company has barely got off the ground and is already embroiled in a legal dispute.


Alongside the Barrita sesame bar and dried bananas, which date back to the days of the gebana association, other gebana branded products are being developed, including chocolate-coated dried fruit with catchy names like "Salsa", "Mambo" and "Merengue." To support this development, dried mangoes are imported directly from producers in Burkina Faso and dried pineapples from Togo for the first time in 2001. But gebana is unable to make the investments required to obtain the highly coveted space on supermarket shelves. The Branded Products project is therefore scrapped in 2002.


Having been represented by the consulting firm BSD for three years, gebana hires its own staff for the first time. They are immediately tasked with finding investors.


Due to the precarious financial situation, a capital reduction is implemented. There are heated discussions as to whether the company should continue. But giving up is out of the question. Meanwhile, Japanese investors take over gebana's partner company in Brazil and want us out. This leads to the founding of our subsidiary gebana Brazil in the same year, which allows us to continue cooperating with local family farmers.

Although there is good sales growth in commodity trading, we face high market requirements and remain dependent on major customers. At the same time, we need large sums of money to pre-finance the harvests – and this increases the business risk significantly. So gebana decides to launch a new project in which products will be sold from their original source directly to consumers via mail order. gebana direct shipping is born! This line of business is to become the key to stabilising gebana's high-risk business model in the years that follow.

gebana also begins cooperating with date farmers in Tunisia.



2004 turns out to be a very difficult year for commodity trading. The threat of excess debt looms once more, but is then averted in 2005. As a result, gebana further increases its focus on the direct shipping business.


gebana turns to new sources in its search for financing, accepting loans from private individuals and issuing participation certificates for the first time. Deciding that it is better to have many small backers than just a few big ones, gebana manages to reduce its dependency on banks and pioneers the crowdfunding trend, which would only emerge much later. The subsidiary gebana Afrique is founded locally in order to better organise and control the purchase of dried mangoes in Burkina Faso.


Business is developing extremely well for gebana, and the company is in the black for the first time in 2007. The company celebrates its 10-year anniversary with a spirit of optimism. It seems that, after a few false starts, a working business model has finally been established.


gebana's commodity trading is feeling the full impact of the global financial and economic crisis. Fortunately, direct shipping remains largely unaffected and continues to grow.


Direct shipping is now suffering from the effects of the economic crisis and begins to stagnate. But there is even greater trouble on the horizon: Traces of the pesticide endosulfan have been found in the entire organic soy crop in Brazil. Conventional farmers in the area have been using it on their crops. It contaminates the environment through the air and rain and accumulates in the beans. The crop has been contaminated and cannot be sold at this point. As a result, our subsidiary gebana Brazil is on the brink of collapse, threatening to take the entire company with it. In protest, gebana launches the campaign "Enough is enough!" together with soy farmers in Brazil. The campaign is a success! Endosulfan, which has long been banned in Europe, is also taken off the market in Brazil. Two years later, gebana Brazil undergoes restructuring and eventually becomes gebana's most successful subsidiary.



The Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia and the uprising in Burkina Faso make our work difficult at times. But the subsidiaries themselves are developing well and we are investing in our own cashew factory in Burkina Faso. The aim is for more nuts to be cracked and shelled locally. The cashew factory will create around 400 jobs over the next several years.


gebana is thriving throughout these years, with direct shipping, the subsidiaries and commodity trading all posting strong growth. gebana is given more structure and the team in Switzerland is reinforced with additional experts. gebana's direct shipping business delivers its first fresh organic oranges from Greece. They are very well received and will become one of the most important products in the coming years. In 2016, gebana achieves the best result in its history.

During this time, the gebana family has also been growing rapidly. In addition to dried pineapple, cocoa in Togo has now become part of our trading activity. Once organic soy is added to the mix, we decide to establish another local subsidiary in Togo. Before we know it, our next baby comes along in 2016: a subsidiary is set up in Benin as a joint venture with the Swiss wholesaler Coop for the production of organic cashews.


The boom comes to an abrupt end as gebana Afrique descends into a major crisis. Although financial difficulties had already surfaced the year before, the collapse is brought about by sharply rising cashew purchase prices, a poor mango harvest and badly needed investments in processes and management. Is it even worth it to go on, or is it now time to throw in the towel? Through our discussions, we come to realise that building up companies in difficult places is at the heart of what we do. It requires both courage and perseverance, which we have demonstrated time and again. So we launch the campaign "Reboot in Burkina Faso" and organise the pre-sale of dried mangoes and cashew nuts over five years.



With the support of existing and new investors, trading partners and 2841 private individuals, our subsidiary relaunches under the name gebana Burkina Faso. The crisis in Burkina Faso has shown that our business model still has its challenges. But gebana now has the size, structure and, above all, many like-minded supporters to weather such difficulties.

So what does the future hold? We don't know exactly, but our plan is to enhance the supporting role played by the direct shipping business in future by expanding into other EU countries, gradually increase the independence of the subsidiaries at the source and allow farmers to benefit more. But one thing is certain: There will always be excitement along the way! Glad to have you with us as we continue our journey!

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