House body certifies passage of banana research center bill

The House committee on agriculture and food has approved to certify on Tuesday a proposed bill that sought to establish the Philippine National Banana Research and Development Center in Panabo City, Davao del Norte.

The center will further develop the country’s banana industry and address the serious diseases afflicting banana plantations and farms especially in Mindanao.

The approved House Bill 2926, authored by House Speaker Pantaleon D. Alvarez (1st District, Daavao del Norte) and Rep. Ruwel Peter S. Gonzaga (2nd District, Compostela Valley), seeks to put up the Philippine National Banana Research and Development Center to be known as the “Antonio O. Floirendo, Sr. Banana Research and Development Center”.

The center is also in recognition of the great contributions made by Antonio O. Floirendo, Sr. to the banana industry in the country.

In his committee report, Rep. Jose Panganiban Jr. (Party-list, ANAC-IP) said the proposed banana center will provide research and development techniques for the production, post-harvest, handling and maintenance of the gene bank for good quality varieties of banana which will further boost the potentials of the banana industry.

Banana is the consistent top dollar earner in the Philippines with average annual earnings of about US$800 million, he added.

The committee also cited in its report data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) that states banana production has increased by 2.24 from 8.8 million metric tons in 2014 to 9.83 million metric tons in 2015.

Improvements in production was due to the increase in the number of bearing plants of Cavendish, Latundan, Lakatan and Saba, and the expansion in the areas planted with bananas in Mindanao, Panganiban added.

One of the authors of the bill, Rep. Gonzaga emphasized the strong clamor from the stakeholders of banana industry for the creation of the center that will undertake scientific research to ensure the sustainability of the industry.

Setbacks also hit the banana industry in past years that include the prolonged dry spell in 2015, the typhoon Pablo in 2012 and the recurrence of the uncontrollable spread of Panama disease, Gonzaga added.

Panama disease is a fungal plant disease which attacks the root system of banana plants. The disease causes the leaves to wilt and the plant dies.

Agriculture secretary Manny Piñol, on the other hand, lauded the approval of House Bill 2926 in the agriculture committee.

He said it is high time for the government to come in and support the banana industry “that grew out of its own resources, of its own efforts” and barely received any support from the government.

“But right now the industry is suffering from a very serious disease called Panama disease. But in spite of this, the government has not really intervened. When the China market closed about two years ago, the government failed to assist the banana growers,” the secretary said, adding that the industry has grown to about a $1.5 billion dollar industry and employs about 500,000 people as of the moment.

Philippine bananas have already captured 98 percent of the Asian market, he said.

Piñol also reported that the Department of Agriculture (DA), he added, will also create the first-ever one-stop shop research laboratory in Davao City that will do research not only on banana diseases but also animal diseases, soil testing, water testing.