Home » Breaking News, Customs & Trade, Press Releases » DA earmarks P263M fund to improve banana quality, halt export dip

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The Department of Agriculture (DA) is allotting P262.7 million partly to bankroll a research and development program to produce banana varieties resistant to fusarium wilt.

The development comes amid declining export sales of bananas attributed to the fungal disease, also known as Panama disease, affecting banana farms and plantations in Mindanao.

For the first seven months of 2020, Philippine exports of bananas dropped 10.7%to $1.034 billion from the year-ago level of $1.158 billion, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority.

“I am afraid we are already losing our traditional market share. Given the current situation, our markets still have the disposable income to buy bananas, most especially at this time of a pandemic. There is simply no reason for them not to buy. And yet, the Philippines is losing in the export war. What happened?” asked Agriculture Secretary William Dar.

He said he has instructed agricultural attaches based in China, South Korea, and Thailand to monitor the situation closely.

“If left unchecked, this will reduce substantially the Philippines’ exports, disrupt trade in the international markets, and cause suffering on banana growers, farmers, workers and their families, which may lead to social unrest,” he pointed out.

Of the P262.7 million funding, P100 million will be earmarked as a counterpart fund under the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (Bayanihan 2) to establish a program to control fusarium wilt and rehabilitate affected Cavendish banana areas in Mindanao.

The rest of the funding will be used to seed other development initiatives to further increase the production of quality bananas for both domestic and export markets.

The R&D program will establish a system that aims to produce, via tissue culture, quality fusarium wilt-resistant banana varieties for distribution to farmers to rehabilitate and re-plant disease-damaged farms.

Dar challenged the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters (PBGEA) to match DA’s P100-million allotment to carry out a sustainable R&D program to control fusarium wilt and rehabilitate affected areas during the group’s virtual 27th joint annual general assembly on September 18, 2020.

“I challenge the [PBGEA] leadership to also put a counterpart funding for the very research issues that you would like to pursue. I am not going to mention how much you will commit, but we will gladly welcome your share,” Dar said.

PBGEA chairman Alberto Bacani said he expects fellow members—composed of the country’s 24 top banana growing and exporting companies—to agree on a counterpart amount matching the DA’s fund in their next meeting.

He also pledged their group’s assistance to Dar’s call to help validate and assess the extent of the Panama disease infestation in Mindanao and agreed that there should be a formal mapping of affected areas.

In addition to the P100 million seed fund for the planned fusarium wilt research center, the DA will implement the “Cardaba” (saba) industry development program, with funding of P120 million to cover 10 provinces: North Cotabato, Lanao Del Norte, Davao Del Sur, and Agusan Del Norte in Mindanao; Samar and Leyte in the Visayas; and Apayao, Cagayan, Quezon, and Oriental Mindoro in Luzon.

Further, DA, in its proposed 2021 budget, included a P42.7 million fund under the agency’s high-value crops development program for various banana industry initiatives.

Fusarium wilt is caused by a soil-borne fungus. It is the first disease of bananas to spread globally in the first half of the 20th century. The epidemic started in Central America, but by the end of the 1980s, the so-called “TR4 strain,” to which Cavendish cultivars are susceptible, had been isolated from samples from Taiwan.

The disease has since spread throughout Asia and reached Africa, and is feared to herald the demise of the banana if not controlled.

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