AFTER losing millions in 2012, banana exporters in Mindanao are still clinging on to China, which has remained to be the biggest international market for Philippine cavendish today.

Luciano Frederick Puyod III, vice president for agribusiness of the Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industries Inc. (DCCCII), said the stringent phytosanitary standards imposed on exporters make it even harder to penetrate this market.

"We shouldn't rely on China, but it's still our biggest market," he said.

Other than stiffer rules, he said Mindanao exporters are also affected by the ongoing territorial dispute between China and the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea.

"Every time we ship to China, may kasamang dasal yan," said Puyod, who is also a banana exporter himself.

Once the cargo is found to contain even a single bug will immediately deny it entry, which is going to be a huge lost in revenues on the part of the exporters, if ever.

At the wake of the Chinese ban on Philippine bananas in 2012, banana exporters were losing P174 million a week.

China comprised 70 percent of the market for cavendish bananas from Mindanao. Since then, the exporters found new market in Middle East.

Another problem of banana industry is the diseases that plague some banana plantations in Mindanao, including Fusarium Wilt.

"We really have to manage it. They're getting more resilient," he said.

Puyod added the cost to produce banana is another challenge that the industry is faced with. As compared to Indonesia, the cost of fertilizer is much higher in the Philippines.

Amid the challenges, Puyod is optimistic that Mindanao banana producers can compete well in Asean Economic Community (AEC), saying there are still a good number of big and small farmers who are producing bananas.

He stressed the need to be ready for the opening of the single market community next year since it will open up bigger opportunities for farmers.

Puyod, however, cannot ascertain if the huge demand coming from the member economies is enough for the exporters here to ease off their reliance on Chinese market.

Banana is again the focus of this year's Davao Trade Expo (Date), slated on November 19 to 22, 2014 at the SMX Convention Center Davao, with the holding of 2014 International Banana Symposium.