AN umbrella organization of banana producers and exporters warned that a bill seeking to put restrictions on the establishment of agribusiness venture arrangements (AVA) in land reform areas could endanger the viability of the $1-billion banana export industry.
The Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA) said the industry is already reeling from global challenges including climate change and calamities, plant diseases, economic fluctuations, geopolitical conflicts as well as domestic problems and disruptions, and now it is also confronted with legislation that, if passed, might even kill the industry.
House Bill (HB) 5161, authored by Ifugao Representative Teddy Brawner Baguilat, proposes to further regulate the establishment and implementation of AVAs in land reform areas.
In a paper submitted to six department secretaries, the banana exporters said HB 5161 is seen as “just one of a series of policy lobbying orchestrated by militant groups to sustain their protests versus government for whatever ground they deem reasonable.”
The white paper emphasized that “the banana export industry has survived for almost five decades and flourished to become a consistent major contributor to export earnings, second only to coconut oil, despite the rigors of the international market and with remarkably very minimal support from the government.”
“To sustain the growth, there has to be collaboration among the pillars of effective participatory governance. Government and business and civil society are often in adversarial positions, spoiling the opportunity to resolve conflict for the interest of the general public in terms of policy directions and institutional support, except for a few multi-agency bodies like the Regional Development Councils (RDCs), which lawmakers should consult and listen to,” the PBGEA said in its white paper.
Banana exporters suggest that instead of the government interfering in purely private commercial transactions, the least it can do is to provide small/individual banana growers and farmers the necessary access to micro financing to increase their equity and capital.
Focus on ‘doables’
“The government should also impart scientific knowledge on precision farming and good agricultural practices (GAP) with pragmatic considerations on environmental, public safety and economic concerns that requires serious extension works by agricultural technicians,” PBGEA said.
It also must provide all banana growers/farmers with state-of-the-art laboratory facilities to protect, preserve and promote the industry; train farmers to be entrepreneurs and understand how economies of scale works; and, institutionalize participatory policy-making activities through intensified consultation and feed backing from all stakeholders to really get to the bottom-line of the issue/concern, the paper said.
PBGEA asked that focus should be on the “doables” rather than making the banana export industry a sacrificial lamb to cater to the whims of militant groups whose agenda is to destabilize the democratic government.
“The banana export industry would not have been socio-economically significant if the relationship with the local communities is not mutually beneficial,” the group said.
Exports of Cavendish bananas breached the $1-billion mark in 2014 when it grew by 18.06 percent to $1.14 billion from $962.58 million in 2013, according to data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).
3M Filipinos dependent on sector
More than half a million jobs (503,058) were created for direct and indirect employment, receiving an estimated P44 billion in annual wages in banana companies, cooperatives and farms including the allied industries such as box and packaging plants, tissue-culture laboratories, chemical companies, trucking/shipping services, health and wellness facilities, insurance companies and retail/consumer firms among others, the industry grouping said.
“Together with the workers’ families and relatives, more than three million individuals are dependent on the banana export industry for their basic needs and self-esteem. The industry also helps mould the future of two million children in Mindanao,” PBGEA said.
According to them, various economic activities created by the industry are the major sources of revenues for the government. The taxes and fees paid to the government in 2014 amounted to P6.5 billion.
“An investment of at least P1.5 million per hectare is required for development, technology, logistics and marketing. A whooping P126 billion have been invested in the production of Cavendish,” the group said.
“The towns of Tagum and Panabo, both in Davao del Norte, were upgraded into cities because their rapid economic growth was mainly spurred by the production of export bananas,” it added.
Furthermore, the gradual transformation of Datu Paglas, Maguindanao into one of the most peaceful towns in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) has become a model for community development because La Frutera – a Filipino banana company–risked the dangers of establishing a plantation in what used to be critical area due to the existing conflict in Mindanao.
“So why kill the goose that lays the golden egg?” PBGEA said.
Prior to HB 5161 being filed, a bill mandating the completion of the land acquisition and distribution component of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL) was filed (HB 4296), which would mean the extension of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) after it expired in June 2014; and another bill that proposes the creation of an Agrarian Reform Commission (ARC) to investigate circumventions and violations of Republic Act 6657 (HB 4735), all these via their party-list champions in the Lower House.
Unfortunately for the banana industry, it became the target of these bills due to the infiltration of cooperatives and labor unions in the sector.
The banana industry was the first agricultural sector in Mindanao that voluntarily submitted to land acquisition and distribution under CARP. After CARP, banana plantations relied on the production of the cooperatives of more than 30,000 agrarian reform beneficiaries to cater to the demands of foreign buyers.
PBGEA submitted their white paper to Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio delos Reyes, Trade Secretary Gregory Domingo, and Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas 2nd.
The white paper was also sent to the secretaries of Social Welfare and Development and Labor and Employment; the Philippine Agriculture and Fishery Council; Senate President Franklin Drilon, House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, the chairs of seven senate committees (agriculture and food, agrarian reform, local government, national defense and security, trade, commerce and entrepreneurship, economic affairs, and labor employment and human development), and the chairs of eight house committees (labor and employment, Mindanao affairs, rural development, economic affairs, trade and industry, agriculture and food, poverty alleviation and ad hoc committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law); two other congressmen (Rep. Raymond Democrito Mendoza and Rep. Antonio Lagdameo Jr.); Director General Arsenio Balisacan of the National Economic and Development Authority and to its regional directors in Regions 9, 10, 11, 12 and CARAGA; to the presidents of the Management Association of the Philippines, Economic Confederation of the Philippines, Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Philippine Export Confederation Inc.