DAVAO CITY — Newly-installed Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar wants the banana industry, both corporate growers and smallholders, to shoulder half of the cost of establishing a research and development (R&D) facility.

In a news conference here Saturday, Mr. Dar said he has asked the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association, Inc. (PBGEA) to work with small growers, many of whom are organized into cooperatives, to jointly cover 50% of the R&D center cost proposed under the industry roadmap.

“They have to work as one (through the) concept of big brother, small brother working together,” he said.

Mr. Dar added that once this is arranged, the government will be ready to fund the rest of the construction cost.

He also said that he has asked the stakeholders to “identify their research agenda… because the government does not have surplus money.”

The DA has hired Bioversity International Honorary Research Fellow Agustin B. Molina Jr. as consultant to assist the banana industry.

PBGEA Executive Director Stephen A. Antig confirmed Mr. Dar’s announcement, which he said was taken up during their meeting last week.

“He told us that the stakeholders should also contribute to the research center similar (to the contribution of) the coconut levy (fund),” Mr. Antig told BusinessWorld.

He added that Mr. Dar proposed the creation of a small group that will focus on the R&D center’s establishment.

Another matter that was brought up during the meeting is the industry’s request for assistance in asking Japan to soften its requirement for testing 100% of Philippine banana exports for the minimum residue limit (MRL) of chemicals.

The Japanese government issued the order earlier this year after some exporters were found to have breached the MRL.

Mr. Antig also flagged the export of banana seedlings to neighboring countries in Asia, which he said poses a threat to the country’s competitiveness.

He noted that some emerging banana growing countries within Southeast Asia are already trying to attract Philippine experts to help develop their industries.

“They have been pirating our technical people, offering three times to four times what they are getting here,” he said, adding that the industry “cannot afford to lose our good people, our technical people who are very experienced in terms of banana growing because humility aside, I believe we grow one of the best bananas in the world.”

The Philippines is the only Asian nation among the top five banana exporters, with the rest in Latin America. — Carmelito Q. Francisco