By Maya M. Padillo

DAVAO CITY — Two agricultural companies in Davao have purchased 30 drones for renting out to small banana farms to spray fungicide.

Federation of Cooperatives in Mindanao (FEDCO) Chief Executive Officer Ireneo D. Dalayon said Sagrex Foods, Inc., controlled by Ferdinand Y. Marañon and Dolphin Agri Ventures run by Domingo Ang are waiting for the delivery of the drones from China, at a cost of about P500,000 per unit.

“Some (big) farms use drones in aerial spraying. In terms of cost, it’s lower compared to a plane and it is good for small land holding and better than manual spraying,” Mr. Dalayon told Businessworld in a text message.

Aside from cutting costs, Mr. Dalayon said the use of drones is expected to improve production as well as banana quality with a more precise spraying operation targeting leaves.

Fungicides control diseases such as black leaf streak, sigatoka leaf spot, and post-harvest diseases.

“At present, we are doing manual spraying to control sigatoka. Drones are more efficient compared to manual spraying,” he said.

He said using drones would lessen toxic pesticide drift in surrounding communities, which is a risk in spraying with aircraft. Meanwhile, manual spraying poses health risks to workers.

“Turbo planes fly so high and fast that some of the chemicals do not hit the leaves, unlike drones, which you can fly at an ideal height so the mist directly hits the leaves. Also, manual spraying has an effect on humans because a worker who does manual spraying has direct contact with chemicals,” he said.

The drones on order can carry 20 to 30 liters of pesticide.

“If your bananas are of good quality, the price is good. ‘Pag maraming sira ang saging, syempre mura lang din ang bili (If the bananas have a lot of defects, of course it will be bought cheap),” he said.

Mr. Dalayon said FEDCO is also planning to tap Land Bank of the Philippines for a loan to purchase more drones.

“If government, through LANDBANK, can extend to small farmers and co-ops loans to purchase drones, we can have our drones,” he said.

At the same time, the cooperative is looking at alternative livelihood or employment for the manual spraying workers who will be displaced.

FEDCO counts as its members small banana farmers’ cooperatives that export as well as supply to corporate growers and exporters. In recent years, it has also ventured into cacao.