TADECO opens lab to help fight banana disease

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TADECO laboratory
TADECO’s banana laboratory -- CQ FRANCISCO

By Carmelito Q. Francisco

CARMEN, DAVAO DEL NORTE — A modern laboratory, operated by Tagum Agricultural Development Company, Inc. (TADECO), has been formally opened to help the banana industry improve the quality of its seedlings and resist Panama disease.

TADECO President Alexander N. Valoria said the facility, which is part of the TADECO AgroTechnical Outreach Program, is intended to provide both corporate growers and smallholders with premium seedlings, particularly those that are tolerant of the Fusarium wilt, better known as Panama disease.

“(This) makes world-class laboratory services that are so critical for our agricultural operations available right here in the middle of Davao del Norte. We made that commitment to many of our fellow bananeros and to government,” Mr. Valoria said during last week’s launch of the facility.

Fusarium wilt, better known as Panama disease, is a soil-borne infection that kills banana plants. An infected farm cannot become productive again unless it is first isolated and treated.

Mr. Valoria said the laboratory can propagate planting materials of Fusarium wilt-tolerant varieties that growers can buy “at a very reasonable price.”

The laboratory, built for about P100 million from the company and a grant from the Dutch government, is capable of checking on soil nutrient status, root health status, diagnose diseases, and analyze fertilizers, among others.

Mr. Valoria said setting up a stronger research and development sector is crucial to the banana industry as it faces stiff competition from Central and South American producers who have been penetrating the Asian and Middle East markets.

He said that between 2011 and 2016, Philippine production dropped by 50 million boxes annually, while those in the Central and South American countries increased by 137 million boxes.

He added that these competitor countries have “stated clearly that they will continue to penetrate the Asian market.”

“We cannot allow them to do that. Together, as the Philippine banana industry, we must meet and defeat that threat to our markets,” Mr. Valoria said.

“We need to regain the ground that we lost in our Asian markets and even threaten their own US and European markets with Philippine bananas,” he added.

Even big companies can take advantage of the laboratory, said Stephen A. Antig, executive director of the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association, Inc. (PBGEA).

“We have been asking government to help the industry. At least TADECO has partially responded to the challenge,” Mr. Antig told BusinessWorld.

TADECO, the flagship company of the Floirendo-owned Anflo Management and Investment Corp., is a PBGEA member.

Mr. Valoria said the company attained a production record of 39 million boxes in 2017 from its TADECO and Anflo Banana Corp. farms. “The planation average yield was 5,400 boxes per hectare, overall for TADECO.”

“Obviously, such production and quality levels could not have been reached without the advantage of a world class agricultural laboratory and technical personnel. We want to share this advantage with the rest of the banana industry,” he said.