Banana firm to set up growership scheme in South Cotabato

Winnie Osorio, community relations and development officer of Upland Banana Corp, said this is the first time the company is opening up the banana project directly involving landowners in South Cotabato.

After three years, Upland Banana now grows banana in more than 2,000 hectares in the municipalities of T'boli and Surallah through leasehold arrangements with farmers.

"But now, the farmers will directly grow the banana that will be bought by the company under a marketing agreement. Upland Banana will provide them with the needed technical support to raise the crop," Osorio said.

He revealed the growership scheme got off the ground last quarter of 2007 and that identified lands are now in different phases of preparation.

South Cotabato Gov. Daisy Avance Fuentes said the expansion of the company would help generate employment and boost the agribusiness potentials of the province.

"Good things are happening in our province," she said of the company's decision to expand its operations.

Upland Banana, based in T'boli, produces the giant Cavendish variety which is sold to the markets of Japan, Korea, New Zealand and the Middle East, Osorio said.

Upland Banana used to be under the Davao City-based AJMR Group, which is headed by Alberto M. Soriano.

But in 2004, Sumifru Philippines Corp, a subsidiary of Tokyo-based Sumitomo Corp, reportedly poured investments of about P2.1 billion to AJMR's operations in T'boli.

Sumifru eventually acquired Upland Banana, Osorio said.

About two years ago, Upland Banana was put in a bad light after it was penalized for violating the provisions of its Environmental Clearance Certificate by the Environmental Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Datu Tungko Saikol, EMB-Central Mindanao director, said the agency was meted a fine of P50,000 for unauthorized expansion in Barangays Salacafe and Lamhaku in T'boli and nearby Barangay Veterans in Surallah, also in South Cotabato.

The imposition of penalty followed the investigation conducted by the multi-partite monitoring team composed of the EMB and religious and civic organizations.

The Coalition of Social Development Organizations in South Cotabato lodged the complaint against Upland Banana.

"The company violated ECC condition no. 35, which states that expansions from the existing approved operation shall be subject to a separate EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) requirement," Saikol said in a resolution.

Upland Banana was actually accused of committing four violations but only one was found to have merit. (MindaNews)