Banana, one of the biggest agricultural export commodities of the country, is now causing problems at the Department of Agriculture (DA), with Agriculture Secretary William Dar starting to seriously worry about something local exporters raised three months ago: “we’re losing our market share to other countries”.
In a statement, Dar said he has already instructed the country’s agricultural attaches based in China, South Korea, and Thailand to monitor the situation closely and thoroughly.
He also ordered the allotment of a total of P262.7 million to bankroll efforts to produce banana varieties resistant to fusarium wilt, also known as ‘Panama disease,’ and other development initiatives to further increase the production of quality bananas for both domestic and export markets.
“I am afraid we are already losing our traditional market share. Given the current situation, our markets still have the disposable income to buy bananas, most especially at this time of a pandemic. There is simply no reason for them not to buy. And yet, the Philippines is losing in the export war. What happened?” Dar said.
“If left unchecked, this will substantially reduce the Philippines’ exports, disrupt trade in the international markets, and cause suffering on banana growers, farmers, workers and their families, which may lead to social unrest,” he added.
Dar’s confusion came about three months since Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA) President Victor S. Mercado, Jr. said that there’s a risk that China, the current biggest export market for Philippine’s Cavendish banana, may prefer to source its supply of the yellow fruit from Vietnam and Cambodia in the next months because these countries have fewer COVID-19 cases.
This, as China, which is where the COVID-19 pandemic started, has already started implementing strict quarantine protocols even for imported products entering its borders.
In his group’s forecast, PBGEA Chairman Alberto Bacani thinks the country’s banana output will likewise decline this year due to loss in hectarage in banana plantation, thanks to Panama disease, as well as stiff market competition overseas.
Aside from Vietnam and Cambodia, Latin American countries such as Peru, Ecuador, and Guatemala are now slowly eating up the global market for Cavendish bananas that was once dominated by the Philippines, he said.
For the first seven months of this year, the Philippines exported US$1.034 billion worth of fresh bananas, down by 10.7 percent from the year-ago level of $1.158 billion, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority.
The decline in exports is attributed to the raging Panama disease affecting banana farms and plantations in Mindanao.
Panama disease is caused by a soil-borne fungus. It is the first disease of bananas to have spread globally in the first half of the 20th century.
Right now, the DA hopes to salvage the situation by earmarking the aforementioned funds.
Of the P262.7 million fund, P100 million is earmarked under the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (Bayanihan 2) as a counterpart fund to rehabilitate Fusarium wilt-affected banana (Cavendish) areas in Mindanao for the benefit of both big and small growers and exporters.
Dar then challenged the officers and members of PBGEA, the largest group of banana exporters in the Philippines, to match the DA’s P100-million allotment to carry out a sustainable research and development (R&D) program to control fusarium wilt and rehabilitate affected areas.
The R&D program, he said, should involve the establishment of a system to ensure the production via tissue culture of quality banana resistant varieties and distributing these to farmers to rehabilitate and re-plant disease-damaged farms.
For his part, PBGEA Chairman Alberto Bacani said he expects fellow members — composed of the country’s 24 top banana growing and exporting companies — to agree on a counterpart amount in their next meeting to match the DA’s P100-million research fund.
In addition to the P100-million seed fund for the planned Fusarium wilt research center, the DA will also implement the “Cardaba” (saba) industry development program, with funding of P120 million to cover 10 provinces: North Cotabato, Lanao Del Norte, Davao Del Sur, and Agusan Del Norte in Mindanao; Samar and Leyte in the Visayas; and Apayao, Cagayan, Quezon, and Oriental Mindoro in Luzon.