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With pest at doorstep, banana grower Tadeco faces biosecurity risk

8.10.2019

THE Tagum Agricultural Development Co. Inc. (Tadeco), one of the country's largest banana exporters, has warned against a move by local government officials to dismantle crucial quarantine measures in its joint-venture plantation. It said such could hasten the spread of the dreaded fusarium wilt and will endanger the banana production and exports of the company.

Tadeco Assistant Vice President for Human Resources Zeaus Vadil told the BusinessMirror that there are Fusarium wilt-infected banana farms just across the street of the firm's plantation within the Bureau of Correction's property (BuCor).

Under a joint-venture agreement with BuCor, Tadeco manages 5,308 hectares of banana plantation inside the Davao Prison and Penal Farm reservation.

Recently, the provincial government of Davao del Norte lead by Gov. Edwin Jubahib planned to demolish three biosecurity facilities of Tadeco's plantation along El Canto road.

The demolition, according to Vadil, is being pushed by the provincial government as part of supposed road clearing operations following the Department of the Interior and Local Government's (DILG) 60-day order to local government units (LGUs) to reclaim public roads.

The order, which stemmed from President Duterte's pronouncement in his 4th State of the Nation Address, tasked LGUs to get rid of all obstructions on public roads.

'Fusarium wilt is just within our backyard,' Vadil said in a phone interview on Sunday.

'From the highway to the back of the El Canto road, once you cross that entire deep, you will see all affected banana farms, [all the] banana trees [have been cut down]. It is just a stone's throw from our farm, it is just across the street,' he added.

Held in abeyance

Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) Chairman Emmanuel F. Piñol told the BusinessMirror that Jubahib has agreed to hold in abeyance the demolition, scheduled on October 7, until the two officials meet this week.

'I talked to Gov. Jubahib and I asked him to defer the demolition until such time we meet to resolve the problem,' Piñol said.

'I am scheduled to meet him on Wednesday in his office. I will try to resolve the problem by getting the parties-provincial government and Tadeco-to a meeting,' Piñol added.

Sought for comment, Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar told the BusinessMirror that he 'has yet to appreciate the developments' concerning Tadeco. 'No comments yet,' Dar said via SMS.

TRO sought

Vadil said they are hoping that a regional trial court would grant their petition for a temporary restraining order (TRO).

Tadeco had argued that DILG's Memorandum Circular 2019-121 doesn't cover farm roads, which is the classification of the El Canto road. Vadil added that the road itself is owned by the BuCor.

'BuCor actually wrote to the governor…and showed proof that the road is not publicly owned. There is no whatever instrument of transferring of right over the property,' he said.

Vadil added that they wrote to Dar and Piñol last week to seek their interventions in the issue.

No banana, no export

Should their biosecurity measures, such as foot and tire baths, be removed for 'road clearing,' Tadeco would be at risk of being infected by Panama disease, Vadil said.

And, if their farm gets hit by the dreaded fungi, then their total banana output could be wiped-out, effectively losing some of their market shares abroad, he added.

'We could really lose our production once we get hit by Panama disease. It spreads in a matter of minutes, plus it is soil-borne. Once we get hit by the disease, there's no stopping anymore,' he said.

'Well, no bananas, no export,' he added.

Vadil said the firm manages about 6,000 hectares of banana plantation yielding around 28 million to 30 million boxes (around 400,000 metric tons) of bananas annually, which are all shipped abroad.

Based on BusinessMirror's computations, Tadeco alone accounts for at least 11 percent of the country's total cavendish exports, which reached 3.4 million MT last year.

Vadil noted that some farms in Santo Tomas, Davao del Norte, are suffering from the devastation of Fusarium wilt, with some plantations already shut down.

Mandated by government

The establishment of biosecurity facilities, Vadil stressed, are mandated by existing government rules and regulations to prevent the spread of Fusarium wilt.

The Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) Special Quarantine Administrative Order 01-2012 declared the province of Davao del Norte as infected with Fusarium wilt and placed under quarantine.

Under that order, banana plantations are obliged to implement quarantine and border control measures such as checkpoints and installation of wheel and foot baths.

In fact, Vadil noted that they could face penalties if their biosecurity facilities are removed, since the implementation of such were mandated not only by the BPI order but also by a provincial ordinance.

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