The tale of two Mindanao regions

Font Size
Rolando T. Dy

M. A. P. Insights

This article will examine the progress of two key regions in Mindanao: Davao and the Zamboanga Peninsula. Davao, in the east, faces the Pacific Ocean with Davao City as the center. Zamboanga, in the west, faces the Sulu Sea with Zamboanga City as center. The two regions were chosen as they have similarities in economic base, extensive coastlines, as well as contrasting geographic locations.

Davao City is the main trade center of the Davao Region, together with southern Caraga, southern Bukidnon, and Socssksargen region. Meanwhile, Zamboanga City serves Zamboanga Peninsula as well as western ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao).

The metrics are: (a) population, land area and poverty; (b) gross regional domestic product and components; and (c) agriculture and fishery, and agri-manufacturing.

Davao is 35% bigger in population and 19% larger in land area than the Zamboanga Peninsula. Its poverty incidence is 12 percentage points lower.

However, there are inter-provincial extremes in poverty. Davao del Sur has a poverty incidence of 15.6% in 2015 as compared to Davao del Norte’s 33.2%. Note: Davao del Sur includes Davao City which has very low poverty.

By contrast, Zamboanga del Norte has a poverty incidence of 51.6%; Zamboanga Sibugay, 31.7%. Farmers’ poverty is far lower in Davao than Zamboanga.

From 2010 to 2015, Davao’s population grew by 9.9% (an in-migration area) versus Zamboanga’s 1.2% (an out-migration area).

Davao is two times larger in GRDP compared to Zamboanga. The former posted a growth of 9.4% in 2016, twice that of the latter’s 4.7%. Structurally, Davao has bigger agriculture and industry sectors.

The Zamboanga Peninsula has a bigger farm area than the Davao region. However, Davao agriculture is more diversified.

Of the total crop area, 78% were occupied by palay, corn, and coconut in Davao as compared to 85% in Zamboanga. Low-yield coconuts account for 46% of harvested area in Davao, and 50% in Zamboanga. Too glaring is the high poverty of Zambo del Norte (51.6%) compared to its neighbor, Zambo Sibugay (31.7%). Low farm productivity is the main culprit.


Perhaps the most distinguishing feature is that Davao has more commercial crop exports in high-value Cavendish banana, desiccated coconut, coco sugar, and cacao. Zamboanga has large areas of rubber but productivity is low.

Davao also has bigger livestock and poultry production. By contrast, Zamboanga has a larger production of fishery and aquaculture.

Davao possesses more diversified agri-industries spurred by its wide base of agriculture raw materials and, perhaps, entrepreneurs.

Davao has an international airport with connections to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. In 2016, Davao airport hosted 3.6 million passengers. The country’s most modern international container port at Panabo City hosts global shipping lines such as Maersk Lines and APL.

Zamboanga has an international airport but no global connections. In 2016, 980,000 passengers used the airport. Tourism appears robust in Davao and undeveloped in Zamboanga. Zamboanga City has to develop its brand.

There is tremendous potential in the two regions. Davao is on the verge of investment takeoff. The construction of the first phase (100 kilometers) of the Mindanao Railway connecting Digos and Tagum will begin in 2018.

Zamboanga, meanwhile, will have to address its peace and order image, poor power supply, and entrepreneurial drive, among others. Zamboanga del Norte’s poverty is among the highest in the country.

Admittedly, it is a challenge comparing two regions. There are statistics, but there are also crucial social and cultural factors of development. The quality of governance institutions differs, too.

This article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines or the MAP.


Rolando T. Dy is the Chair of the MAP AgriBusiness and Countryside Development Committee, and the Executive Director of the Center for Food and AgriBusiness of the University of Asia & the Pacific.