PH's status as top Cavendish banana exporter still threatened

Published July 21, 2021, 1:22 PM

by Madelaine B. Miraflor

The Philippines’ status as the world’s second top exporter of Cavendish banana is still threatened by the continuous infestation of Panama disease, now considered one of the most destructive plant diseases globally.

Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA) Chairman Alberto Bacani said in a virtual briefing that the country’s banana industry continues to face its “biggest challenge” yet with the prevalence of Panama disease.

This, according to him, has been resulting in dwindling hectarage among banana plantations, making it extra hard for the Philippines to compete against growing producers of Cavindish banana, such as Cambodia and Vietnam.

PBGEA Chairman Alberto Bacani at DA virtual briefing

Next to Ecuador, the Philippines is still the second top exporter of Cavendish banana, producing 13 percent of the world’s supply of the billion-dollar agriculture commodity.

However, the country’s production for Cavendish bananas has declined over the last three years, from 207.8 million boxes in 2018 and 195.5 million boxes in 2019 to 162.2 million boxes in 2020. Each box weighs 13.5 kilograms.

The export value of the Philippines’ Cavendish banana also went down to US$1.6 billion in 2020 from the US$1.9 billion export value recorded in 2019, said Bacani.

“This year, [the trend would be almost similar]. There is no big expansion occurring, [and] a lot of multinational companies prefer to expand in Ecuador and other Latin American countries because of the perceived risk of Panama disease,” Bacani, who also serves as the CEO of Unifrutti Tropical Philippines, said.

Another threat for the locally produced Cavendish banana industry, he said, would be the improving capability of Cambodia and Vietnam to supply the commodity to China, which is currently one of the Philippines’ top export markets for the yellow fruit.

“There is downward price pressure in China because countries like Cambodia and Vietnam have been increasing their banana exports to China. Their bananas are much cheaper because they are near the market. [As a result] there is now an oversupply of bananas in China. That is another threat to the Philippine Cavendish banana industry,” Bacani further said.

About 70 percent of the Philippines’ output for Cavendish banana currently goes to China and Japan, while the rest goes to South Korea, Middle East, New Zealand, and other countries.

Last year, Agriculture Secretary William Dar ordered the allotment of a total of P262.7 million to bankroll efforts to produce banana varieties resistant to Panama disease. The plan includes the development of a research center solely dedicated to bananas.

“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.

Right now, Bacani said there is still no banana variety that is resistant to Panama disease, but members of PBGEA were able to come up with varieties that are tolerant to it, somehow reducing the risk of being totally destroyed by the infestation.