Rejected bananas are still money earners

Winnie Osorio, community relations and development officer of the Upland Banana Corp. said it is the policy of the firm that “bananas not suited for export shall not be disposed in the local markets for consumption of the people (because we don’t want to compete with local producers).


Upland Banana is under the Davao-City-based AJMR Group, which is headed by Alberto M. Soriano. In 2004, Japanese firm Sumifru Corp poured investments of about P2.1 billion for AJMR’s expansion.


Upland Banana’s products are marketed in Japan by AJMR, the third biggest banana producer in the Philippines.


Osorio said T’bolis, the natives of the area, are earning additional money by chopping the rejected bananas for drying. The dried bananas are then used as feed ingredient.


“Our only concern is that these reject bananas provide additional livelihoods to the (T’bolis). There are at least 12 barangays in the town that serve as buying and chopping stations of rejects,” he said.


Just two years in operations, Upland Banana is now employing some 3,800 workers, most of them T’bolis. The firm has planted bananas in at least 1,700 hectares out of its 3,000 hectare-development area.


Osorio said the company is working with the local government unit to strengthen the economic capacities of the town’s households.


As part of empowering the T’bolis’ economic lot, he said, the company has put up a vegetable seed production center for free distribution to the communities.


Dominador Siloterio, the town’s information officer, said the company is coordinating with the local government unit for its social responsibility program.


“We are helping them through our efforts in the community that they should be accepted. The venture of the company no doubt boosts the town’s (economic) development,” Siloterio said.


Already, several bakeries have been sprouting in the area. “Before, there were only two bakeries but now there are six. Moreover, mornings in the town used to be dull but now there are lively activities with people going to work,” Siloterio said.


He said the company helped improve the road networks, especially in villages where its banana plantations are.


Early this year, Upland Banana was fined P50,000 by the Environmental Management Bureau for violating the provisions of its Environmental Clearance Certificate.


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


The imposition of penalty followed the investigation conducted by the multipartite monitoring team composed of the EMB, an attached agency of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, religious and civic organizations.


The Coalition of Social Development Organizations in South Cotabato lodged the complaint last year 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 accused of four violations but only one was found with merit.