Thursday, July 30, 2009
Davao City — Banana growers said big plantations could easily expand to 10,000 more hectares within the next 12 months following President Arroyo’s executive order (EO) lifting the restriction on the total hectarage the industry could cover.
But the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA) said it wants other issues settled first, including the ill effects of its aerial application of pesticides. It cited a recent study of the Department of Health (DOH) and two pending bills in both houses of Congress that could stymie plans and even threaten the huge contribution of the industry to the local as well as the country’s economy, which are smarting from the global financial crunch.
Stephen Antig, president of PBGEA, said the varying plans of its 31 members to expand could reach an aggregate area of another 10,000 hectares in the next year “because the industry continues to be profitable.”
The banana industry in Mindanao currently covers 43,000 hectares from its members alone. With small and independent growers, total hectarage planted to bananas is estimated to be as much as 60,000 hectares. Expansion of hectarage has been stifled by a decades-old restriction that the industry could operate only on a maximum of 27,000 hectares.
He said the industry is estimated to be worth between P35 billion to P40 billion, and employing 500,000 workers.
On Friday last week, President Arroyo, on a direct stopover flight here from her Saudi Arabia meeting with the Non-Aligned Movement, signed EO 807 that lifted the restriction imposed during the term of the late President Ferdinand Marcos in his Letter of Instruction (LOI) 58. His LOI limited the area for export banana plantations to 26,250 hectares.
“[The President] just said we can now flex our muscles and start expanding because she has lifted the restriction,” Antig said. He added that the industry has made her aware of its predicament on “the issues hurled against us even by government agencies.”
Antig was referring to the recent study of a Department of Health doctor who said that there were victims of the pesticides applied through aerial spraying in a banana plantation in barangay Kaamulan, Davao del Sur.
The Davao City government banned aerial spraying since last year, the first local government to issue an ordinance, which banana growers fear may become a precedent for other areas hosting plantations of bananas and other cash crops.
He also said separate bills against the use of aerial spraying have been pending in Congress. One was filed by Sen. Miguel Zubiri and by Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez.
“We have been saying repeatedly that our applications are safe, as ascertained, certified and approved, not only by the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority, but also by international bodies like the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations,” he said.
He added that “our markets, especially Japan, have a very strict requirement that even a very small residue can cause them to reject our shipment.”
He said big banana growers have been shipping 180,000 boxes thrice weekly. Each box contains 13.5 kilos of the Cavendish variety. Average-sized growers ship at least once a week.
Antig said PBGEA has now taken a war footing “against these nongovernment organizations [NGOs] and some government agencies, like the DOH. We are ready to fight back, especially because we have already been pushed too far back to the wall.”
He said he has already confronted a DOH undersecretary recently, criticizing him for his agency’s meeting with NGOs that are critical of aerial spraying ,“but without us being invited.”
“We would also want a third-party group to evaluate again the study of this DOH official,” he said.
He said PBGEA representatives would also seek audience with representatives and senators “to explain our sides.”
“We would only ask them to give us the opportunity to explain that we have been observing scientifically approved practices,” he said.
He warned the government that this unsettled issue hurled against the industry may threaten its contribution to the economy.
“Imagine threatening the industry just because of the arguments that we have not been given adequate time to explain,” he said.
By Business Mirror
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