PILIPINO Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA) executive director Stephen Antig warned that the export leading industry might soon perish if government does not come in and bail them out.
Citing the presentation of Dole Asia Holdings chair David DeLorenzo during the Banana Conference last October 12, 2017 at SMX Convention Center, SM Lanang Premier, Davao City, Antig enumerated the major problems the industry is facing as: tariffs imposed on banana products shipped to export markets; disease and pestilence; climate change; speed and interconnectivity of markets, and inconsistencies of government policies.
In DeLorenzo's presentation, he pointed to a 21 percent drop in export volume of bananas from 2011 to 2016 or a US$300-million drop from 2011 revenues to 2016 revenues.
The death knell was already ringing loud soon after the debris of the 2012 typhoon Pablo were cleared and it was found out that the deadly fusarium wilt was spread by the floodwaters and agricultural runoff throughout the major banana growing areas in Davao del Norte and Compostela Valley provinces.
It was downward hence as revealed by the numbers from 2011 to 2016.
But stepping back and looking with an uninterested eye, you can see that everything was leading to this from the start. The industry at retrospect was a giant baby that never was able to learn to walk on its own. It's huge, yes. Even in terms of land area covered, but it remained as it was at the start:
Fresh bananas with multinational brands planted in hectares upon hectares of monoculture high-chemical plantations. The processing all comes from the laboratory work long before the banana hearts spring out to produce fingers, everything else was addressed by chemicals.
A few years ago, lawyer Koronado Apuzen, executive director of the Foundation for Agrarian Reform Cooperatives in Mindanao Inc. (Farmcoop), said that going organic is the only way the banana industry can weather the shocks that it was going through. Farmcoop runs organic banana and low-chemical banana plantations, albeit at much smaller scale than the big players. But at that time, Apuzen said, they were the least affected by fusarium wilt and they also enjoy premium price because they are organic. But Farmcoop is small and thus able to adjust to the times.
The banana industry has grown too big, it would be very difficult, even impossible, to move it around toward organic farming. Much less can you make the soil of these existing giant plantations yield much without chemical inputs. A Scylla and Charybdis, the devil and the deep blue sea, situation. Having stirred away from the devil by developing more disease-resilient but chemical-dependent products, the industry is now falling into the deep blue sea.
Do we just let go?
Definitely not, because hundreds of thousands are relying on the industry. But it can no longer be sustained much longer.
There has been so many years of foot-dragging. There has been so many years denying what was staring everyone in the face.
We are now facing the deep blue sea while the devil is breathing down our necks, there are major decisions to be made and made fast, and the first step is for the local players in the industry to admit that the blue sea is already within reach, and it's a race to the bottom. Playing the poverty card will mean longer suffering for the workers.
Bottomline: Take stock of the real situation and cram to find real solutions. Not the solutions that have already been tried over and over again in the banana industry's long history.