Local banana growers and exporters hopeful China can save the industry

October 22, 2012 10:00 pm 

MANILA, Oct. 22 — Local banana growers and exporters remain hopeful that China can save the ailing banana industry and help save the livelihood of some 500,000 people.

Stephen Antig, executive director of the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA) said Chinese ambassador to the Philippines Ma Keping reportedly vowed to help resurrect the local banana industry at all cost.

In March 2012, China imposed a stricter quarantine and inspection measures against Cavendish bananas from the Philippines following the discovery of scale insect, scientifically known as Aonidiella comperei.

The Chinese ambassador reportedly has committed to organize a meeting between banana growers and exporters and big Chinese businessmen, who are importers and would-be importers.

Antig, earlier wrote to Ambassador Ma about the plight of the local banana industry due to the slow down of banana export to China.

Antig told the ambassador about the huge loss in revenues and the displacement of people who are entirely dependent on bananas for their livelihood.

“At present, the industry is confronted by a very serious problem… the imposition of very strict phytosanitary measures on our bananas that enter China. This resulted in the reduction of export by approximately 40 percent,” Antig said in his letter.

He also said the industry lost about US$ 72 million (P3.024 billion) in revenues in the past six months.

“We used to export an average of 70 million boxes of bananas to China in the past years but chances are, this will be reduced drastically because of the reduction in volume due to the stringent phytosanitary measures,” Antig said.

In March 2012, China imposed a stricter quarantine and inspection measures against Cavendish bananas from the Philippines following the discovery of scale insect, scientifically known as Aonidiella comperei.

In the succeeding months, China has maintained that it has not banned the entry of Philippine fruits, particularly bananas. But Chinese quarantine officials stressed that all shipments will be subjected to 100 percent inspection.

Out of the 1,500 container vans of bananas sent to Beijing, Chinese quarantine officials only allowed in 290 vans. This prompted President Benigno Aquino to direct the Department of Agriculture (DA) to find new markets for the Philippine fruit.

In a related development, the Department of Agriculture is now betting on banana exports by Dole Philippines to help the country's banana industry affected by the stricter entry requirements imposed by China.

Agriculture Secretray Proceso Alcala said the fruit and vegetable exporter might have the go signal to ship its first banana export to the United States before the end of the year after US ambassador to the Philippines Howard Thomas visited the company’s facility in Bukidnon, Mindanao.

The DA is eyeing more markets for bananas after China, the country's leading export destination for the fruit, imposed strict quarantine requirements on Philippine exports following the discovery of insects on some shipments.

Aside from the US, other markets being looked at by DA are Europe and the Middle East.

For his part, Bureau of Plant and Industry Clarito Barron revealed that Dole Philippines is set to ship out some 3000 metric tons of Cavendish bananas to the United States.

"By the end of the year Dole will have its maiden export of highland Cavendish to mainland USA. As per information, an initial of 3,000 metric tons will be shipped to the USA, “ Barron said in a text message.

Alcala said they are currently negotiating on a bilateral agreement with Washington for the possible shipment of Philippine bananas to U.S. military bases

Besides military bases, the DA chief said they are also looking at providing the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA), which is operated by the United States Department of Defense, as a more feasible market for Philippine bananas.

At present, the US Department of Defense operates more than 250 commissaries worldwide.

The DeCA operates a worldwide chain of commissaries providing groceries to military personnel, retirees, and their families in a safe and secure shopping environment.

Shoppers save an average of more than 30 percent on their purchases compared to commercial prices.

A valued part of military benefits, commissaries contribute to family readiness and enhance the quality of life for America’s service members and their families.

"It is more viable to export our bananas to these US bases than shipping the commodity directly to US mainland,” Alcala said.

Bananas are the country’s second-top dollar earner next to coconuts.

The banana export industry uses some 80,000 hectares of land spread out in 13 provinces in Mindanao. (PNA)

FPV/JKG/RSM

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