CROP MEN­TAL­ITY

F&B World - - NEWS - Text by AN­GELO COM­STI Pho­tos by RENNELL SALUMBRE

It’s a com­mod­ity that drives our coun­try’s econ­omy, yet the gov­ern­ment fails to give it the at­ten­tion it de­serves

A PEEK INTO THE LO­CAL BA­NANA IN­DUS­TRY RE­VEALS A THREAT TO OUR LEAD­ING AGRI­CUL­TURAL EX­PORT. DE­SPITE THE CHAL­LENGES,

ONE COM­PANY MAN­AGES TO KEEP ITS DREAM ALIVE

When it comes to fruits, one rules the world—the ba­nana. It is the fourth most im­por­tant crop, af­ter all, next to wheat, rice, and corn. And it grows and thrives in over 100 coun­tries, with Ecuador as the top pro­ducer, pro­vid­ing 30 per­cent of global ex­ports. Ac­cord­ing to Bar­rón’s, an Amer­i­can fi­nan­cial mag­a­zine, the mar­ket for ba­nanas is worth $7 bil­lion a year as over 100 mil­lion units are con­sumed all over the world.

In the Philip­pines, the fruit is one of the ma­jor forces driv­ing the coun­try’s econ­omy. As a prime agri­cul­tural ex­port com­mod­ity, ba­nanas play a sig­nif­i­cant part in the so­cio-eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment of mul­ti­ple prov­inces, es­pe­cially in Min­danao.

In Davao, there’s a sprawl­ing 760-hectare ba­nana plan­ta­tion that’s been suc­cess­fully op­er­at­ing since 1968, the year Atty. Jose “Boy” Tua­son, Jr. went to Tagum City and found a promis­ing but strug­gling es­tate, which he bought from the Amer­i­cans. The land used to be much more ex­pan­sive—2,200 hectares, to be ex­act—and it was once the largest in the coun­try. But when the Com­pre­hen­sive Agrar­ian Re­form Pro­gram was formed and put in play, the area had to be di­vided among the lo­cal farm­ers, leav­ing what even­tu­ally evolved as the Hijo Re­sources Cor­po­ra­tion with just a third of what founder Boy orig­i­nally had.

In 2007, daugh­ter Rosanna Tua­son-Forés took over the com­pany as pres­i­dent and CEO, man­ag­ing not just the acres of ba­nana and coconut farms, but also the other fa­cil­i­ties that had been put up on the land. This in­cludes the Ba­nana Beach; Lanikai, a pri­vate abode; and The Spot, a fish­ing pavil­ion. Hijo has def­i­nitely come a long way: from lay­ing the ground­work for Cavendish ba­nana ex­ports to Ja­pan in 1969 to rein­vent­ing the in­dus­try to ben­e­fit farm­ers, Tua­son-Forés is work­ing to achieve a dream and legacy con­ceived by her late father.

FROM BRANCH TO BOX

The en­tire ba­nana pro­duc­tion—from grow­ing to pack­ing—re­quires much la­bor and de­mands a lot of work­ers for it to be a run­ning eco­nomic en­gine. Nev­er­the­less, it’s a great busi­ness to run as it has a rel­a­tively quick re­turn, em­ploys many peo­ple, and eas­ily re­cov­ers from nat­u­ral calami­ties. On top of that, ba­nanas are the only lo­cally grown fruit avail­able year round.

The Hijo Ba­nana Plan­ta­tion has 95 em­ploy­ees dis­trib­uted be­tween two de­part­ments—pro­duc­tion and qual­ity con­trol. It has a nurs­ery that tends to the seedlings un­til they are ready for the field where they are planted and cared for un­til they bear fruit, which takes about nine months.

At the es­tate, each hectare is la­beled ac­cord­ing to week age. This pro­vides or­der and ease in mon­i­tor­ing. Fur­ther­more, a colored band is tied around every fruit

As a prime agri­cul­tural

ex­port com­mod­ity, ba­nanas play a sig­nif­i­cant part in the so­cio-eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment of mul­ti­ple prov­inces, es­pe­cially in Min­danao.

“We need to pro­vide so­cial

eq­uity; the farmer needs to earn more,” says

Rosanna Tua­son-Forés.

bunch to iden­tify its class. When the ba­nanas are al­ready ripe for pick­ing based on the client’s age re­quest, the work­ers then cut the “branch” at the stalk and hang it on a car­roza un­til they gather 10. Once done, they roll the har­vest over to the pa­tio where they are lined up for in­spec­tion.

For every group, one branch is sac­ri­ficed for sam­pling and mea­sur­ing. When it passes the test, the whole set is sent to de­mand­ing where the ba­nanas are re­moved from the stalks (which will then be used as fer­til­izer) then washed in a vat of water and chlo­rine.

They then pro­ceed to the se­lec­tor area where the ba­nanas are di­vided into dif­fer­ent classes (small, medium, and big) and the re­jects are set aside to be fed to the pigs. The ba­nanas are then sprayed with chlo­rine to pro­tect them from fun­gus and passed through fans to dry. A row of work­ers post stickers on them to des­ig­nate which client the batch is for and then the fruits go straight into boxes, sealed, then car­ried straight into de­liv­ery vans, ready for trans­port to China, Ja­pan, and the Mid­dle East.

All these hap­pen in a sin­gle day. It’s a well-oiled rou­tine that has worked for the cor­po­ra­tion for many years, with the coun­try ben­e­fit­ing from its ex­ports.

FAC­ING CHAL­LENGES

Ac­cord­ing to re­ports, the coun­try earned $440 mil­lion ex­port­ing this crop in 2015. That may seem im­pres­sive, but when com­pared to the year be­fore, it’s rather alarm­ing. It’s a big drop from the $1.1 bil­lion earn­ings in 2014. And it can get much worse as years go by if the lo­cal or­di­nances and lack of di­rec­tion and su­per­vi­sion from the gov­ern­ment con­tinue to stunt the in­dus­try’s po­ten­tial and growth.

Though there is the op­por­tu­nity to tap into new mar­kets like Rus­sia and Korea, lo­cal ba­nana grow­ers will find it hard to be at par with their for­eign com­peti­tors with­out gov­ern­ment sup­port. Aside from sub­si­dies, the agen­cies of other coun­tries are help­ing them reach an agree­ment that will ei­ther re­duce or even elim­i­nate the tar­iffs for ex­port­ing. Do­ing so will not only greatly lessen the fees but also en­cour­age in­crease of vol­ume.

As for Tua­son-Forés, she has her work­ers in mind on top of all the me­chan­ics of the busi­ness. “We need to pro­vide so­cial eq­uity; the farmer needs to earn more,” she says. It’s a ral­ly­ing cry she has been car­ry­ing out on be­half of her father. “It has been a bat­tle. It’s still a work in progress.” But for sure, it’s def­i­nitely not for­got­ten.

(Op­po­site page) The early stages of a ba­nana tree; the ba­nanas are clas­si­fied per area and per branch; a man ties a band around his waist to drag the 10 branches he just har­vested into the in­spec­tion area; (This page) The weight is mea­sured and, if it passes, the ba­nanas are then washed in a pool of chlo­ri­nated water

An em­ployee metic­u­lously in­spects the ba­nanas that had just come in from the plan­ta­tion.

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