PHILIPPINES’ banana industry is forecasted to be stagnant following issues and challenges hounding the industry, an official from Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA) said.
PBGEA chairman Alberto Bacani told reporters in a recent press conference that bringing back the glory days of the banana industry remains difficult as Panama disease, also known as Fusarium wilt, continues to ravage banana plantations in the country.
“Honestly, I see the industry is not gonna grow anymore, not back to the level that it was 10 years ago, before typhoon Pablo. I think it might maintain its current state. We’ve also seen a lot of players get out of the industry already,” Bacani shared, emphasizing it is just his own opinion and not of the association.
He explained players chose to leave the industry as they see it as no longer profitable for business.
“Unless, there’s a resistant variety or a soil conditioning program that can be done to eliminate the virus (Panama disease) from the soil,” he said.
Panama disease, also called fusarium wilt, is a devastating disease of bananas caused by the soil-inhabiting fungus species Fusarium oxysporum forma specialis cubense. Panama disease affects the Cavendish variety or about 95 percent of the country's banana output.
Bacani said they’ve been working with the government to conduct the research necessary to find a cure for the devastating disease.
PBGEA also noted climate change and policy restrictions and penalties as other factors given the declining data of the industry in terms of value and production.
The country’s export volume of Cavendish bananas is seen to be reduced by about 14% from 160 million boxes in the last two years to 140 million boxes this year.
“For this year, there was really a big reduction in the total banana produced from the Philippines. Just looking at the figures from weeks 1-30 year to date, if you are to annualize that number, we are looking at about only 140 million of 13.5 kilo boxes compared to about 160 million boxes in the past two years on the average,” Bacani explained.
Of the total exported bananas, about 40% goes to Japan, the number one export market of the Philippines in terms of bananas. Followed by China at 25%.
In terms of metric tons (MT), from a volume peak of 4.4 million MT in 2019, the country exported just 2.4 million MT of fresh bananas last year. Exports as of June 30 this year were at 1.8 million MT, down 4 percent year on year.
Bacani said Panama disease and other banana diseases had caused the dramatic decline of total hectares of lands grown with bananas for export.
From 85,000 hectares dedicated to growing Cavendish bananas a decade ago, the industry is now down to 50,000 ha. only in 2022.
“If you are to go around Davao del Norte, it’s kind of depressing. There are a lot of abandoned farms. I think half of the lost hectares over the 10 years is from Davao Region,” he said.
Bacani underscored that players chose to abandon some of their lands as the disease increases substantially its cost of production.
He cited multinational companies like Sumifru and Lapanday are now investing in Ecuador and other banana-growing countries for their expansions.
At present, the industry only has a stop-cut measure against the Panama disease as there’s only a tolerant variety, not resistant, that has been propagated over the last eight years. It’s a variety from Taiwan called Giant Cavendish Tissue Culture Variant (GCTCV) 218.
“It has been improved by various players in the industry but it hasn’t really solved the problem because there is still a recurrence of the disease,” he said.
He also mentioned that the non-compliance of the small growers and exporters to required quarantine protocols to contain the disease also hurts the whole industry. Small growers comprise half of the industry.
“The small growers cannot do the same level of strict quarantine measures necessary to contain the disease. And we understand because they really cannot afford to be disciplined, it’s expensive and will affect their income,” Bacani said.
Hope in sight
PBGEA executive director Stephen Antig, for his part, said despite challenges, they remain optimistic to grow the industry.
“We cannot afford to be pessimistic. We just have to be optimistic. If you can remember, 10 years ago, the first time Panama was discovered and it was forecasted that it will be the end of the industry but a decade after, we are still here. Surviving,” he said.
He emphasized that the players are doing all they can to keep the industry as around 500,000 Filipino families are dependent on the industry.
“We cannot afford to let it die not only for peace and security but more so for economic reasons. In 2019, we contributed about P1.9 billion to the economy, but it went down to P1.3 billion last year. We are hoping it will remain that way or increase,” Antig said.
Despite the decline in value and production over the years, the Philippines remained the second-biggest banana exporter in the world next to Ecuador.
PBGEA is the country's largest banana association composed of 18 companies and their subsidiaries. ASP