Mindanao biz leaders say DA not responding to agri industry concerns

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 10 March) – Mindanao business leaders lashed out at the Department of Agriculture (DA) for allegedly not responding appropriately to address the concerns of the agricultural sector, most especially the banana industry that is suffering from losses due to El Nino, global market competition, and diseases.

“We have done everything that we can think of, but we are not getting the appropriate responses from the government. Probably, it will come after the next election,” said Stephen Antig, executive director of the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA), during the weekly Habi at Kape sa Abreeza Mall on Tuesday.

He cited, for instance, the PBGEA’s request to the department to come out with a mapping of the affected areas by Panama Disease, also known as the Fusarium Wilt, in Mindanao “but so far we have not received such inventory.”

Antig added that one of its members is still not allowed to export Cavendish bananas to China after the suspension issued by the Chinese government during the 2012 banana crises.

He suggested to the Philippine government to renegotiate with the inspection and quarantine bureau in China to lift the suspension, although the country’s Plant Quarantine Services is doing a regular check if the growers here follow the sanitary protocols.

“We can actually go to China and explain to them what measures we have taken so the suspension will be lifted,” Antig said.

The PBGEA has a total of 27 member companies, which covered 40,000 hectares of the 83,000 has. planted to bananas in Mindanao.

Aside from China and Japan, the Philippines’s main markets for bananas are United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, and Bahrain in the Middle East and Brunei, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and Singapore in ASEAN.

“We have raised all these issue to DA but as I have said medyo taphaw ang response ng DA (DA’s help is quite shallow),” he said

Some Japanese visitors will be in Davao Region by middle of this month to check on the situation of the banana industry here and conduct a study on how the Panama disease would affect the health of the consumers when an affected banana is eaten.

“But it may not (affect the health) because once hit by Panama disease, your bananas will no longer bear fruits,” Antig pointed out.

Businessman Philip Sonny Dizon lambasted DA by saying it is “one department that is totally useless. Secretary (Proceso) Alcala has not delivered the goods.”

He said he is discouraged to expand his plantations due to the volatility of banana’s global price market and the cost to produce bananas.

DA 11 regional director Remelyn Recoter said they, in collaboration with the local government units (LGUs), have ongoing assistance to small banana growers and cloud seeding operations to cushion the impact of the long dry spell on the agricultural crops.

“We have for other crops distributed open surface pumps,” she said.

Recoter said the big players might have not felt it because their assistance is more focused on small farmers.

“Hindi lang nila alam siguro. But of course we could not cover all farmers,” she said.