Philippines may lose in banana export war
Agriculture Secretary William Dar has instructed agricultural attaches in China, South Korea, and Thailand to monitor the global situation as other banana-producing countries continue to take other markets from the Philippines.
STAR/File
Philippines may lose in banana export war
Louise Maureen Simeon (The Philippine Star) - September 21, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines may lose in the banana export war amid continued stiff competition in the global market, prompting the government to allocate some P263 million to save the local banana industry.

Agriculture Secretary William Dar has instructed agricultural attaches in China, South Korea, and Thailand to monitor the global situation as other banana-producing countries continue to take other markets from the Philippines.

“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 for banana growers, farmers, workers and their families, which may lead to social unrest,” he said.

The country’s banana exports went down by 11 percent to $1.03 billion from January to July due to Panama disease or fusarium wilt, affecting banana farms and plantations in Mindanao.

Last July, the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association Inc. (PBGEA) projected that the industry is looking at a big drop of as much as 20 percent in volume to 162.2 million boxes from last year’s 195.5 million boxes.

This is more or less equivalent to $1.65 billion export sales, down 15 percent from last year’s $1.95 billion.

Bananas comprised 30 percent of the total value of agriculture exports of $6.39 billion in 2019. The Philippines remains the world’s second largest banana producer, next to Ecuador.

The local banana industry is threatened by other exporting countries. For one, the Japan and South Korean markets are not decreasing their consumption, but Latin American bananas are eating up the market share of the Philippines.

The DA said it would allot P262.7 million to produce banana varieties resistant to fusarium wilt, and other development initiatives to further increase the production of quality bananas for both domestic and export markets.

Of the budget, P100 million will come from the Bayanihan 2 allocation for the DA to rehabilitate fusarium wilt-affected banana Cavendish areas in Mindanao for both big and small growers and exporters.

Another P120 million for the Saba Industry Development program is also set to cover the provinces of North Cotabato, Lanao Del Norte, Davao Del Sur, Agusan Del Norte, Samar, Leyte, Apayao, Cagayan, Quezon, and Oriental Mindoro.

Under its 2021 budget, the DA also included P42.7 million for several initiatives, including production, cleaning, and distribution of quality planting materials; upgrading of tissue culture laboratories; enhancing research and development; procurement and distribution of farm machinery and training and extension.

Dar recently had a virtual meeting with PBGEA to challenge the association to match DA’s P100-million allocation and carry out a sustainable research and development (R&D) program.

The R&D program will 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 its part, PBGEA agreed on a counterpart amount and pledged to validate and assess the extent of the Panama disease infestation in Mindanao.

Fusarium wilt is the first disease of bananas to have spread globally in the first half of the 20th century.

The epidemic started in Central America, but at the end of the 1980s, it spread through Asia and reached Africa. It is feared to herald the demise of the banana if the disease is not controlled.

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