Probe sought on claim Bukidnon bananas stricken by ‘Panama disease’

MALAYBALAY CITY – (Bukidnon News Dispatch/22 Sept) The Sangguniang
Panlalawigan urged the Bukidnon provincial agriculturist in a
resolution passed Wednesday to investigate the veracity of a report
that a fungal disease has infected at least a thousand hectares of
banana plantations in Bukidnon.

Board member Jay Albarece (1st district), who authored the resolution,
urged provincial agriculturist Alson Quimba to produce a report to the
governor and the provincial board about the report raised by the
Davao-based Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA)
in an ABS-CBN report this week.The PBGEA revealed that the Panama disease, caused by fungus Fusarium
oxysporum and is resistant to fungicide, may have found its way to
Bukidnon.

“…where it has allegedly wiped out 1,200 hectares of banana
plantations and may have also contaminated some plantations in
Compostela Valley and most recently in Santo Tomas in Davao del Norte
province,” Albarece penned down in his resolution.

Quimba said in an SMS Thursday there is so far no information about
the Panama disease in Bukidnon’s plantations. He refused to elaborate.

According to Quimba, Bukidnon has approximately 20,000 to 25,000
hectares of land planted to banana.
Albarece cited that the province hosts a number of highland banana
plantations, which employ thousands of regular employees and provide
livelihood opportunities to thousands of residents.

“The outbreak of dreaded disease in its fertile plateaus is feared to
bring about unthinkable adverse economic and social repercussions to
the entire province and its people,” Albarece, a labor lawyer, said.
He said the report is needed “as soon as possible.”

Albarece said it is therefore imperative that Bukidnon be kept from
any incident of Panama disease infestation.

“If the reports of the disease’s presence in the province are true,
that the spread of the banana ailment be immediately controlled and
contained to prevent the same from spreading to the unaffected banana
plantations in the province,” he added.

But Albarace said if proven otherwise, then Bukidnon must immediately
declare it is “Panama disease-free.”

He cited that though there are environmental issues on banana
plantations creeping on Bukidnon’s fertile soils, but the province is
not ready to face an employment crisis if the industry players
attribute to the alleged existence of the disease any prospects for
closure of operations.

In December last year, banana firm Agrinanas Development Co., Inc.
(ADCI) filed a notice of closure at the Department of Labor and
Employment threatening retrenchment of at least 2,000 workers.

Tago G. Sarigan, chief of the DOLE-10 regional office’s technical
services support division – regulatory unit, said then that among the
reasons cited in the notice is “marketing problems.”

Another labor official, who asked not to be named for lack of
authority to speak on the matter, said the firm cited “high cost of
production” brought about by widespread Moko and Panama disease
infestation in its banana plantation.

Board member Albarece said initially they claimed infection to Panama
disease in their announcements to laborers. But he said they were not
willing to confirm it in hearings with the labor office and the labor
unions.

As of April, the company plans to retain only 850 of at least 3,000
hectares of the firm’s banana plantations and only 1,000 of its 2,200
regular employees. (Walter I. Balane/Bukidnon News)

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