Banana farmers want to remain under Marsman contract

Published August 24, 2021, 2:02 PM

by Madelaine B. Miraflor

The majority of the members of the Davao Marsman Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Multi-Purpose Cooperative (DAMARB MPC) intend to continue with its contract of lease with export banana plantation company, Marsman Estate Plantation Inc. (MEPI).

Photo from Manila Bulletin

In a statement, DAMARB MPC Chairman Hernando Rivero said the members of their organization recognize the importance of having a lease contract with a stable company, which has become more significant these days as they face the challenges brought about by the pandemic that is affecting not only the country but the entire world.

DAMARB MPC issued this statement in the light of recent developments concerning Presidential Agrarian Reform Council’s (PARC) Resolution No. 2016-30-05 dated September 12, 2016. This resolution supposedly led to the revocation of the lease agreement of MEPI and DAMARBDEVCO, which is now DAMARB MPC.

Now, PARC is expected to make a decision soon on DAMARB-MPC’s and MEPI’s motions for reconsideration on the said resolution.

DAMARB MPC represents 697 or 92 percent of the 762 Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries (ARB) working with MEPI.

Rivero explained that the other 164 ARBs who chose not to lease their lands to MEPI, like the members of Marsman Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative (MARBCO) and later Marsman Individual Farming Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative (MIFARBCO), opted to acquire the land through the Voluntary Offer to Sell (VOS) scheme of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) and to become independent growers.

This, despite the fact that MARBCO and MIFARBCO ARBs are now buried in debt to their investors and have been delinquent in their land amortizations with the Land Bank of the Philippines.

“Sadly, their farms are now facing serious problems with Panama Disease that are threatening their existence. This is also the fate of many other independent growers in the banana industry,” said Rivero.

“Compare this with us at DAMARB whose members remain insulated from these problems because we have a fixed land rental scheme which MEPI recognizes come hell or high water,” he pointed out.

Thus, Rivero emphasized that “we prefer to stick it out with MEPI, and we hope the government will not revoke our agreements with MEPI. Otherwise, the government will impoverish us instead of empowering us all the more during this time of the pandemic.”

Pending the decision on the aforementioned motion for reconsideration, MEPI and DAMARB MPC continued to talk and amended their land lease contracts under the guidance of the Provincial Agrarian Reform Coordinating Committee (PARCCOM) in Davao del Norte.

In fact, the latest amendment to the contract made in December 2019 and signed by individual ARBs saw land rentals and incentives increasing from the existing P50,000 per hectare per year to P90,000—recognized as among the highest-ever land rental plus the incentive not only in the banana-growing industry but in the entire farming sector.

“In our 5th Amendment to the contract of lease, each of our ARB-member is entitled to receive an annual variable production incentive beginning 2019. For the years 2019 and 2020, since MEPI achieved production of more than 4,300 boxes, our ARBs received an additional P80,000 for two years,” Rivero added.

He also pointed out that MEPI “assumed the payment of all local taxes for our lands and for its improvements. To compare, real property taxes on the lands awarded to ARBs of other cooperatives remain delinquent because of their inability to pay the same.”

In retrospect, Rivero said it was perhaps one of the best decisions made by the members of DAMARB-MPC because in the succeeding years the banana sector suffered severe setbacks brought about by Panama disease and the substantial drop of banana prices in the international markets.

According to the Philippine Statistics Authority data, total Cavendish exports in 2020 reached only 3.4 million metric tons (MT) or 17 percent lower than the record-high shipment of 4.1 million MT in 2019.

PSA data also showed that export receipts from Cavendish shipments in 2020 declined by 20.6 percent to US$1.552 billion from US$1.953 billion.

For the period January to June 2021, the situation worsened after total Cavendish exports dropped by 88.5 percent or to 1 million from 2 million MT.

Exports values for the same period, meanwhile, fell 75 percent to $499 million from US$875 million.

 
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