PCAARRD Targets Small Banana Farmers

Dr. Agustin Molina (4th from left),  PCAARRD staff  and
other visitors at the farm of Almario Alcaraz where improved
banana farming techniques are being tested.

In the wake of the outbreak of the Fusarium or Panama disease affecting some Cavendish banana plantations in Mindanao, government agencies that have to do with agriculture are mobilizing their resources to help address the problem.

   
Big amounts of funds have been announced by government agencies to be used to address the banana disease problem. These are the Department of Agriculture, The Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD), and the DA-Bureau of Agricultural Research.
  
In the case of PCAARRD, an agency of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), it has been addressing the needs of the smallhold banana farmers. For instance, one ongoing PCAARRD project centers on the “Adoption of Science and Technology-Based Integrated Crop Management and Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) in Lakatan and Cardaba”. The project was launched even before the Fusarium disease was played up in the newspapers and other media.
  
The rationale for targeting the smallhold farmers is that the big players in the industry, the growers and exporters of Cavendish banana, can as well take care of themselves. They have the technical expertise and the funds to take care of themselves.
  
Targeting to help the small banana farmers is just right. After all, they produce more than 70 percent of the total banana production in the country. Yet they are the most in need of help through the adoption of improved farming practices.
  
Together with the staff of the Crops Research Division of PCAARRD and Dr. Agustin B. Molina of Bioversity International, we visited some of the small banana farmer-cooperators in Mindanao. One of them is Kagawad Almario Alcaraz of Sitio Liboton, Brgy. Kalao, Moncayo town in Compostela Valley province.
  
A 7,000-square meter portion of his farm was used to demonstrate how science-based banana growing technologies could improve Alcaraz’s income. There are a number of  technologies that are being taught to the farmers like Alcaraz. One of them is the use of disease-free planting materials, which means tissue-cultured seedlings. Another is the planting in straight rows so that there is better penetration of light among the plants. Then there is the desuckering technique. Only one major plant should be retained per hill, followed by a junior sucker, and if necessary a third one that will be allowed to grow when the fruit of the mother plant is maturing.
  
Right fertilization, proper drainage, deleafing (removing the old non-functional leaves), weeding and some other chores are being taught to the farmers. Monitoring of disease occurrence is also important so that solution could be immediately taken whenever needed.
  In the farm of Alcaraz, 700 tissue-cultured seedlings were planted in July 2010. After more than a year later, 630 fruit bunches were harvested, weighing 14 to 16 kilos per bunch for a total of 9,450 kilos. Gross sales amounted to P162,540.  The total expenses incurred by Alcaraz was P70,000 which included the cost of constructing the canals, land preparation and labor. The cost of the seedlings (P12 each) was not included because that was provided free by the project. That would have been an additional P8,400. That’s not much. The net profit would still be P84,050 from that 7,000 square meters. Not bad for a small farmer.
  
Without the improved  farming practices, the harvest would not have been as much. The usual practice of most farmers is to plant their seedlings at random and the production is usually very low. They don’t practice desuckering so that the fruits are very small.
  
Dr. Agustin Molina of Bioversity International observed that some of the recommended practices were not strictly followed in the farm of Alcaraz. For instance the drainage canals were not so effective because the plants were grown in the flat ground, not elevated, so that many of the plants were poorly drained. And that could be the reason why the fruit bunches weighed only an average of 15 kilos each.
 Normally, according to Dr. Emily Fabregar of Lapanday Food Corporation which produces a lot of tissue-cultured lakatan and Cavendish bananas, the tissue-cultured plants could produce bunches that weigh 28 kilos each.
  
By the way, PCAARRD has been collaborating with Bioversity International in implementing its program of helping the small scale banana farmers not only in Mindanao but also in the Visayas and Luzon. It was Bioversity through its Asia-Pacific and Oceania coordinator, Dr. Agustin Molina, that initiated the protocol promoting the use of tissue-cultured planting materials in Northern Luzon several years back.
  
Dr. Molina negotiated a partnership with the private sector to help in the project. He requested Lapanday Food Corporation, for instance, to produce tissue-cultured lakatan for sale to farmers in Northern Luzon whose previous plantings were devastated by bunchy top virus.
  
The model that has worked well is this. The small plantlets are air-shipped to Manila for eventual delivery to the provinces where they will be hardened in the nursery preparatory to planting in the field. This way, the mode of transporting the planting materials is very economical. One small carton, for instance, contains 2,500 plantlets.
  
The same is being done in Mindanao today. Those who are planting in different places in Mindanao source their small plantlets from Lapanday and some other tissue culturists. Then these are grown into a size ready for field planting near where the plantations are located.
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