ARMM sees deal boosting banana exports to Japan

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COTABATO CITY: Exports to Japan of Cavendish bananas produced in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) are expected to increase significantly, after officials reached a supply deal with a major Japanese supermarket chain during President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent visit to the country.

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Lawyer Ishak Mastura, chairman and managing head of the Regional Board of Investments (RBOI) of the ARMM confirmed that the region, which is already a major source of Cavendish banana exports to Japan, is gearing up for a new challenge after Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol on Tuesday said Filipino farmers in conflict-affected Central Mindanao, particularly Maguindanao, will supply Cavendish bananas to a Japanese supermarket chain under an agreement that was signed during President Duterte’s trip to Tokyo.

Piñol did not identify the supermarket chain.

A 5,000-hectare Cavendish banana plantation, which can produce up to 20 million boxes annually, will be dedicated for export to Japan, Piñol said.

“First time that they specified [they want to buy bananas produced in the]conflict-affected areas,” the agriculture secretary added.

For its part, RBOI-ARMM has been expecting that as investments in new Cavendish banana plantations in the region go on-stream, exports to Japan would substantially increase.

Last year, Unifrutti Group Philippines became the largest investor in the ARMM after registering with RBOI its P3.7 billion Cavendish plantation project in the towns of Talayan, Guindulungan and Buldon, all in Maguindanao province.

The project covers 2,600 hectares of land in the three municipalities. This is on top of its existing investments in 1,500 hectares in the towns of Datu Paglas and Buluan in the same province.

Aside from Unifrutti, other investors in Cavendish banana plantations in the region are Del Monte Fresh Fruits with up to 1,000 hectares in the town of Datu Abdullah Sangki, Maguindanao; the 550-hectare plantation of Al-Mujahidun Agro Resources and Development, Inc. in Ampatuan, Maguindanao; and the 500-hectare plantation of Alip River Development Export Corp. in Datu Paglas, Maguindanao.

Mastura said the region’s agro-climatic conditions are ideal for Cavendish banana plantations, particularly in Maguindanao since Mt. Apo and its adjacent mountains provide a natural shield from typhoons coming from the Pacific Ocean.

“Gone are the days of banana republics in South America that were viewed as being underdeveloped for being colonized and made dependent on banana investors coming from the United States and elsewhere,” the RBOI-ARMM chair said.

The Cavendish banana export industry in the ARMM have a strong local investor component and the owners of the land have a decisive say in the banana companies, especially because the investor only leases the land from the local resident and don’t own the land, Chairman Mastura added.

Philippine banana exports are currently in a slump with $440 million in total value posted last year from $1.1 billion in 2014. Thus, the additional exports from ARMM would be a boost to the industry. Philippine bananas exported worldwide are of Cavendish variety with up to 40 percent of the volume going to Japan.

The Davao Region used to control up to 95 percent of the banana industry but in recent years, neighboring regions such as Central Mindanao, ARMM and Northern Mindanao have started to contribute to the total volume of fruits exported. Current Cavendish banana hectarage is placed at roughly 80,000.

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