Lockdowns slow banana production amid robust export demand

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By Carmelito Q. Francisco
Correspondent

DAVAO CITY — Quarantine protocols imposed by some local governments in Mindanao in line with the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) crisis have affected the production of some banana export firms in the midst of strong demand for the fresh fruit, a top industry executive said.

Stephen A. Antig, executive director of the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association, Inc. (PBGEA), said companies are seeing lower output as the movement of people is restricted by lockdowns and curfews.

The demand is high, but movement of the workers is our main concern, said Mr. Antig in a text message to BusinessWorld on Monday.

In Bukidnon, banana farms are not included in the list of“essential businesses that are allowed to continue operating during the quarantine period from April 13 to 26.

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Under the guidelines issued by Gov. Jose Maria R. Zubiri, Jr., non-exempt businesses shall be closed during the effectivity of the order.”

In Davao del Norte, the top banana-producing province in the country accounting for about 37% of total exports, Gov. Edwin I. Jubahib ordered the reduction of the number of agricultural workers and directed them to observe two-meter distancing.

The order is in effect from April 5 to 20.

Provincial lockdowns have also been preventing workers from crossing borders if their residence is not within the same locality as the farms.

The farms could have maximized productivity now that the market has improved, but these orders have become a big challenge (to meet), said Mr. Antig.

He added that the initial problem on cargo movement has been resolved and shipments are now operating smoothly again.

February 2020 export data released earlier this month by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed fresh bananas were among the bright spots with a 29.6% growth rate.

In 2019, the value of exported Cavendish bananas stood at $1.93 billion, 40% higher than the 2018’s $1.38 billion. Bananas accounted for 38.77% of the agro-based exports last year, and 2.75% of total exports.

PBGEA President Victor S. Mercado, in a press briefing in February, noted that while the export value has increased, production actually fell to 195 million metric tons (MT) in 2019 from 207 million MT in 2018 due mainly to a mild drought, which is expected to continue this year.

The Federation of Cooperatives in Mindanao (FEDCO), which is composed of small banana growers, is looking for funding to irrigate more farms in M’lang, North Cotabato to maintain production despite the dry spell.

“There had been no rain in North Cotabato since January this year, FEDCO founder and Chief Executive Officer Ireneo D. Dalayon said in a text message.

He said they have already set up irrigation systems in at least 20 hectares of banana farms since last year and they need to source capital to cover another 20 hectares.

Mr. Dalayon said an investment of about P500,000 is needed to irrigate one hectare, including the procurement of water pumps. — with Maya M. Padillo

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