President Rodrigo Duterte expects agriculture to be a major industry in the Philippines again in 30 years’ time if the nation supports government efforts to iron out law and order, including putting an end to extortion activities by bandit groups victimizing local farmers.
At the closing ceremonies of the 2016 Banana Congress held in Davao City last week, Duterte cited the role of Mindanao plantations in the development of agriculture in the country.
He said, however, law and order remain as the greatest challenge to the country’s banana industry in Mindanao, acknowledging that owners of plantations in the area continue to be harassed by lawless groups.
“Until and unless you can put together a country that’s bereft of any revolutionary tax, extortion and everything, sinusunog ang property [properties are being burned]– it’s all because of taxation. If it’s not taxation [by]the communists, it’s extortion of the roving bandits in Mindanao,” the President said.
Some of the industry stakeholders, particularly big banana plantations, have been seeking government support and protection against extortionists from the communist rebel group New Peoples Army (NPA), who continue to demand “revolutionary” taxes.
A multinational company – Dole-Stanfilco – recently shut down two of its banana business operations [plantation and packing]in Surigao del Sur province after rebels the company believes were communists torched its container trucks early this year because it refused to pay the revolutionary tax.
Nineteen of Dole’s container trucks have been burned since 2010. The trucks were used to transport bananas from the Surigao del Sur plantations to Davao City. The closure affected more than 1,500 workers, the company reported.
Duterte said Mindanao is key to driving developments in Philippine agriculture.
While mining industries and export processing zones can sprout anywhere, Duterte said, “what would make the industry valuable is actually [agriculture in]Mindanao, and only in Mindanao.”
Shipping lines carrying agricultural exports from Mindanao indicated that banana exports account for more than 60 percent of the total volume shipped out of the region.
Part of the Duterte government reforms is to reach out to rebel groups in the country, and government peace negotiators are currently hammering out a deal with key leaders of the CPP-NDF in a meeting in Oslo, Norway. A government spokesman has said both parties should recognize the need to complete negotiations in the next 12 months.
At the Banana Congress in Davao, Duterte told hundreds of delegates: “So, at first, even before I took my oath of office I tried to reach out to the communists. And right at the start of my administration we also started the talks, I’m very happy. Now we are freed of this countryside [problem]vis-à-vis itong [this]Communist Party of the Philippines, NDF, NPA.”
Duterte said now he is bullish about agriculture in the country, and sees that the sector will “make it big…in the span of the next 30 years,” provided the country is able to iron out law and order, and stop the extortion activities by bandits in the region.
The banana plantations in Mindanao cover about 83,000 hectares and are estimated to employ more than 330,000 workers supporting a total of two million people.
Organized for government policy makers, business leaders, technocrats, farmers and other stakeholders of the banana industry, the two-day Congress also served as a venue for the participants to share information on best practices in pests and disease management, value chain development, technology updates, maximizing benefits from trade and tariff agreements and market standards compliance.