Task force to probe banana disease in Bukidnon

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/3 Nov) – The Provincial Agriculture Office (PAO) has composed a fact-finding team to investigate reports that a fungal disease has infected about a thousand hectares of banana plantations in the province.

Engr. Alson Quimba, provincial agriculturist, told MindaNews Thursday that representatives from the PAO, the Department of Agriculture’s Regional Banana Task Force, and the Central Mindanao University will compose the locally-initiated task force. The team, which includes a team of pathologists or experts of plant diseases, will conduct inspections in the banana plantations on November 8 to 10.

He added that the subjects for the fact-finding team are the plantations of Dole Philippines, Agrinanas Development Co., Inc. (ADCI), Mt. Kitanglad Agri-Ventures, Inc., and Muleta Agri-Development Corp.

Quimba said the task force is in response to a resolution passed by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan last September urging Quimba to verify media reports about the disease.

Board member Jay Albarece (1st district), who authored the resolution, urged Quimba to verify an ABS-CBN report quoting the Davao-based Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA) that a fungus called Fusarium oxysporum may have found its way to Bukidnon.

Albarece noted in his resolution that the fungus, also called Panama disease, is resistant to fungicide.

He said it could be the same fungus that contaminated some plantations in Compostela Valley and most recently in Santo Tomas in Davao del Norte.

Quimba said earlier he has no information so far about the reported presence of the Panama disease in Bukidnon’s plantations.

Bukidnon has around 20,000 to 25,000 hectares of land planted to banana, he said.

Albarece cited that the province hosts a number of highland banana plantations, which employ thousands of regular employees.

“The outbreak of dreaded disease in its (Bukidnon) fertile plateaus is feared to bring about unthinkable adverse economic and social repercussions to the entire province and its people,” he said.

“If the reports of the disease’s presence in the province are true, the spread of the banana ailment should be immediately controlled and contained to prevent the same from spreading to the unaffected banana plantations in the province,” he added.

But Albarace said that if the reports were false, then Bukidnon must immediately declare it is “Panama disease-free.”

He said that though there are environmental issues related to the presence of banana plantations in Bukidnon, the province is not ready to face an employment crisis if the industry players decide to stop operations owing to the alleged existence of the disease.

In December last year, banana firm Agrinanas Development Co. Inc. (ADCI) filed a notice of closure at the Department of Labor and Employment, a move that threatens to displace at least 2,000 workers.

Tago G. Sarigan, chief of the DOLE-10’s technical services support division, said the firm cited “marketing problems,” among others.

Another labor official, who asked not to be named for lack of authority to speak on the matter, said the firm cited “high cost of production” brought about by alleged widespread Moko and Panama disease infestation in its banana plantations.

Albarece said that ADCI initially told its laborers they were closing down because of Panama disease. But he said the company did not confirm it in hearings with the labor office and the labor unions.

As of April, the company planned to retain only 850 of its 3,000 hectares of its plantations and only 1,000 of its 2,200 regular employees. (Walter I. Balane / MindaNews)