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.