When Iceland went Bananas

Iceland is the northernmost producer of bananas in the world
August 26, 2019
Kári Gunnlaugsson

Iceland is an isolated island in the North Atlantic with an almost dreamlike feel to its existence, full of surprises and paradoxes. The lack of vegetation draws out details in the volcanic landscape creating the extraterrestrial feeling so many filmmakers have taken advantage of in the past, but also makes it a harsh mother to its children.

 

Being this far north the summer is short and cold so growing crops presents some serious challenges. Only the hardiest vegetables survive here such as carrots and potatoes. Very little grain is grown and hardly on a commercial level. The result of this is that the country is dependent on importing so many  goods that it needs. Fortunately Iceland is self-sufficient in meat and dairy production, plus of course having some of the richest fishing grounds in the world just off its rugged coastline. 

 

The technology developed to harness and distribute geothermal energy has been a game changer for the production of greens in the country. Thanks to a thriving greenhouse industry, Iceland is now able to produce around 70%  vegetables consumed in the country. But no fruit is being grown in Iceland, at least not on a commercial level. 

 

However, Iceland is the northernmost producer of bananas in the world thanks to some banana plants at the University of Agriculture. The first banana plant arrived in Iceland in 1939 and was planted in a greenhouse in Reykjavik and it bore fruit in 1941. At this time the geothermal greenhouse industry was still in its infancy but starting to become more and more successful. During and in the aftermath of WW2 fruit and vegetables became scarce same as so many goods coming into Iceland from abroad,so a few greenhouses were constructed that grew bananas among other things and continued to do so until 1960 when import duties on fruit were removed and the local production could not compete with the imported goods. Some remaining plants found their way to the University of Agriculture and are still grown there for teachers, students and guests to enjoy.  

 

Vikings did not travel on Banana boats
Banana boats are not traditional transport in Iceland neither in the Viking days nor today.

It is hard to tell what the extent of the production actually came to at its peak but we know for sure that bananas were grown at what was considered at the time to be on a commercial level from 1945 until 1960.

 

There has always been talk about trying to grow more fruit in Icelandic greenhouses. This is a part of an even bigger discussion on how to keep the country as self sustaining as possible despite the disadvantages of its geographical location. In recent years with growing awareness of our carbon footprint and increased popularity of vegetarian and vegan lifestyles the discussion has flared up again. The argument being that Iceland should use its green energy, hydro or geothermal, to produce as much as possible. We'll see if the future brings us a Garden of Eden in the North thanks to geysers and Plexiglas.

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