Banana growers lash at environment group over aerial spraying issue

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/12 February) — The Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA) hit an environment group for “recycling” issues against the use of aerial spraying in banana plantations without “scientific basis.”

Reacting to reports on Friday, PBGEA executive director Stephen Antig said the issues hurled against the banana industry were not new, as the groups opposing it have been recycling issues to attack the industry.

Last Monday, Mamamayan Ayaw sa Aerial Spraying (MAAS) president Dagohoy Magaway appealed to the Supreme Court to decide on the seven year-old case involving an ordinance banning aerial spraying in Davao City.

Magaway issued the appeal after receiving reports that large banana companies in the city were using planes to spray fungicides on their plantations.

“We appeal to the Supreme Court to treat this as urgent,” he said.

He claimed the chemicals have also affected the health of the residents living near these banana plantations in Calinan, Brgy. Dacudao, and Callawa in Buhangin.

He said there are banana companies that have discarded aerial spraying like in Toril, Baguio, and Marilog.

“If these companies are able to do away with aerial spraying, why can’t others do it?,” he said.

In 2007, the city council passed Ordinance 0309-07, a measure known as “An ordinance Banning Aerial Spraying Practice in all Agriculture Entities in Davao City.”

In 2009, the Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a petition filed by banana growers to declare the ordinance unlawful.

Magaway said some farmers noted a 60-percent reduction in their yields on some crops allegedly due to the chemicals used by the banana companies.

In their farm in Calinan, he said some of the banana plantations have gone to elevated areas, and the chemicals they use would go down and and affect their crops such as cacao and coconut.

‘Let SC decide’

Asked to comment, Antig said: “We cannot talk about that… It’s already there. Let the Supreme Court decide.”

“Dili na nato samukon. Magpa-abot na lang ta og decision (Let’s not disturb the proceeding. Let’s just wait for the decision,” he said.

But the PBGEA official refuted claims that aerial spraying has caused health problems and reduced the productivity of the farmers near the plantations.

He said the Global Positioning System device installed on the aircraft makes the spraying more targeted, removing the risk that the chemicals may drift towards the direction of the nearby communities.

“Our planes are equipped with GPS, a mechanism that will open and shut off when near the buffer zones,” he said.

He added they don’t want to waste investment on agricultural chemicals, saying that it will cost the company about P100,000 per hectare a year.

“How can you afford to waste such money?” he said.

Antig added the allegations of some farmers that the use of banana oil to make the chemicals more adherent to bananas reduces the productivity of the nearby crops.

He said the oil would melt away when exposed to the extreme heat of the sun.

He also said that the suggestion of Department of Agriculture to use drones instead of agricultural aircraft will incur more costs on the part of the big companies and will take more time.

An agricultural aircraft would cover 200 hectares per hour while a drone would cover only 2.2 has per hour, he said.

PBGEA has 27 company members, covering 40,000 has. of the 83,000 has. planted to bananas in Mindanao.

Banana exporters produced 85,324,491 boxes from January to September 2015, or 5.35-percent lower compared to 90,147,480 boxes for the same period in 2014. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)