Banana, cacao can be grown together-A A +A
Sunday, February 10, 2013
THE Philippines is considered as the third largest producers of banana in the world. In fact, banana is considered as the most important fruit crop in terms of volume of production and export earnings.
Banana production contributes significantly not only to the national income in terms of export earnings but also to employment.
Davao del Norte is touted to be the country's "banana belt," as it hosts most of the 33 major banana plantations, along with small grower farms.
The province accounts for more than half of the 79,000 hectares of banana areas in Mindanao, according to Stephen S. Antig, the executive director of Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA).
However, the banana industry suffered a big blow when China and Iran banned the importation of banana from the Philippines. In 2010, Iran banned the importation "until further notice" of 49 agricultural products it deemed "nonessential," including fresh and processed fruits, fruit concentrates and dairy products.
PBGEA data show Davao Region exports about 50 million boxes to Iran annually, worth about P6.5 billion. A standard banana box weighs 13.5 kilograms.
Last year, China banned the importation of bananas from the Philippines. Chinese authorities reportedly imposed what industry stakeholders called "unbelievably stringent" agricultural quarantine rules for Philippine products.
To help its small banana grower members affected by the abrupt stopping of banana export to Iran and China, the Federation of Cooperatives in Mindanao (Fedco) intercropping their banana with cacao.
Fedco is the umbrella organization of banana cooperatives composed of farmers operating in Davao City and the provinces of Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur and Compostella Valley.
Fedco has 13 member coops with around 3,600 farmers owning almost 3,000 hectares of land planted with export-quality fresh Cavendish bananas that are both the "highland" and "low land" varieties.
"We saw the need to diversify (the farms of our members)," said Flordelyn A. Saavedra, marketing officer of Fedco and head of its cacao project, during the workshop on agricultural reporting held in Maa, Davao City. "We have identified cacao as one the crops of great potential."
In 2011, the world produced around 4.25 million metric tons of cacao beans. About 74.8 percent of production came from Africa. Asia contributed around 12.5 percent, the bulk of which came from Indonesia.
Because of the big potential of cacao in the local and international market, Fedco then made a partnership with Acdi/Voca in the establishment of the Cacao Banana Extension Center (CBEC).
Intercropping, the growing of two or more crops in the same field, is not a new method of farming. It has been practiced by most Filipinos since time immemorial like planting of sugarcane under the coconut trees, or growing of fruit trees with vegetables.
"Many banana industry players we talked with told us that cacao can't be intercropped with Cavendish bananas," Saavedra said. "But we want to provide additional income to our members, so we decided to ahead with the experiment by growing the crops together."
On March 2011, Fedco intercropped the 1,500 Cavendish bananas with 1,800 cacao trees in barangay New Kantipunan in Sto. Tomas, Davao del Norte. It serves as its CBEC pilot area.
"In less than two years, the planted cacao trees now produce 12 pods per tree," Saavedra reported. The production is within the ideal productivity index based on CacaoCheck, Acdi/Voca's cacao growing manual.
On the other hand, the Cavendish bananas continuous to produce fruits which volume as part of the Fedco exports.
The success of the first CBEC pushes Fedco to establish of four more in the municipalities of Santo Tomas and Asuncion, both in Davao del Norte.
"Our CBEC is a proof that cacao and Cavendish bananas can grow together," Saavedra said.
With this technology, there is now a good future for farmers who plant banana, said Ireneo Dalayon, Fedco's chief executive officer.
"We see the cacao industry as a new ray of hope for all our banana farmers," he said.
Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on February 11, 2013.