From Business Mirror (May 11): ‘NPA attacks, erratic policies to kill PHL banana industry’
Unreliable government policies that disregard established practices and contracts, extreme weather phenomena and the continuing attacks of the New People’s Army (NPA) in Mindanao threaten the banana industry.
Industry players and workers in the banana sector also warned the Philippines could be overtaken by other banana exporters if these concerns are not resolved soon.
“We used to be the world’s second-largest banana producer and exporter next to Ecuador. But today, the Philippines has been edged out by Costa Rica,” said Antero Sison Jr., president of Marsman Estate Plantation Inc. (Mepi).
“Ironically, this could be the best time for us to recover because of the increasing demand from large markets, like China, but unpredictable state policies are pulling the industry down,” Sison added.
The country’s export earnings from banana plunged to $440 million in 2015, from $1.1 billion in 2014.
“We can learn to cope with extreme weather phenomena, like El Niño and the La Niña, by applying and developing climate-resilient technologies,” Sison said.
“But no technological application can be developed against the inconsistency of the policies of the Department of Agrarian Reform [DAR],” he added.
Banana growers lamented the supposed attempts by DAR officials to scuttle legitimate and valid agribusiness venture deals between banana-plantation developers and agrarian-reform beneficiaries (ARBs). They said this is in “blatant disregard” of President Duterte’s policy of honoring all contractual obligations of the government.
“DAR officials, whether deliberate or not, have been contributing to the decline of the banana industry,” said Hernando Rivero, a member of the Davao Marsman Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Development Cooperative (Damarbdevco).
The Damarbdevco has forged an agribusiness venture agreement with Mepi, which donated the land cultivated by members of the cooperative.
Agribusiness-venture agreements (AVAs) between cooperatives formed by ARBs and banana-plantation developers are among the most successful partnerships in the agriculture sector. The AVAs have enabled banana growers to earn more than farmers planting rice or other crops.
Sison said the DAR appears to be unconcerned over the plight of banana ARBs when its head, Secretary Rafael Mariano, ordered a blanket review of all AVAs or leaseback agreements despite these deals already upheld as legal, fair and aboveboard by government authorities and the courts.
The DAR has been after the cancellation of the AVA between Mepi and Damarbdevco.
“It saddens us to think the DAR doesn’t care whether our ARBs and other workers in our plantation lose their jobs. Their officials are indifferent to their plight, and couldn’t care less if our farmers and their families go hungry,” Sison said.
Hernani P. Geronimo, spokesman of Lapanday Foods Corp. (LFC), said the review of AVAs may have “emboldened” the communist insurgents to continue with their attacks against banana plantations.
“The attack launched by this lawless armed group last April 29 against two of LFC’s packaging plants and a farm in Davao City also displaced allied businesses that relied on the operations of our packaging plants,” Geronimo said.
“It also deprived Davao City and the national government of taxes that contribute to the well-being of the nation,” he added.
Geronimo said the NPA appears to be mocking Duterte, because many of the atrocities were committed in his home city of Davao.
“The attack on our plants will affect the export capability of the Davao region, as pointed out by the National Economic and Development Authority, since Lapanday is one of the biggest producers of Cavendish bananas in Davao,” Geronimo added.