JONAS MAURO, BANANA PLANTER: Very Happy With Variant 218

Jonas Mauro and wife Rose, a medical doctor, checking a big bunch of Variant 218.
Dr. Emily Fabregar of Lapanday Foods and Dr. Gus Molina showing a young tissue culture plant by Dr. Fabregar who is the pioneer in mass producing Variant 218 through tissue culture. She is a very cooperative collaborator of Dr. Molina.

These days, Jonas Mauro is a happy smallhold banana planter in Calinan, Davao City. Who wouldn’t be? His banana farm which was wiped out by the destructive Fusarium wilt disease (Tropical Race 4 or TR4) in 2014 has now become productive and profitable.

He currently harvests from 20,000 plants of the Variety 218, one of the Giant Cavendish Tissue Culture Variants (GCTCV) from Taiwan which was introduced for testing and possible adoption in the Philippines by Dr. Agustin Molina of Bioversity International. What prompted Dr. Molina to take action was the incidence of the so-called virulent TR4 which had earlier devastated banana plantations in Taiwan, China, Indonesia, Australia and elsewhere.

Of the 20,000 Variety 218 that he planted in 2016, about five percent were affected by the disease but that is insignificant. Even a 10 percent infection would be still manageable, according to Mauro. He is determined to plant the resistant variety on a 20-hectare farm that his late father bought. He hopes he would be able to have a share of the 1.3 million tissue-culture seedlings that the Department of Agriculture has ordered from Lapanday Food which is the pioneer in multiplying 218 in collaboration with Dr. Molina.

But he is going to do something more than waiting for the government allocation. He will soon put up a tissue culture laboratory of his own. He will not only produce planting materials for himself but for the hundreds of small farmers and independent growers who don’t have their own laboratories. The multinational companies could not be expected to produce planting materials for other growers for the moment because they are in expansion mode.

Jonas Mauro stands before his plantation of GCTCV 218. In 2014, the same area planted to Williams Cavendish was totally wiped out by Fusarium Wilt TR4.
Dr. Gus Molina and Jonas Mauro appreciating the big blossom of this plant that is low-growing with big trunk. It’s a candidate as mother plant for tissue culture.

Mauro is now tagging indivicual banana plants in his farm as possible mother plants or source of tissue for culturing in the laboratory. He is particularly interested in plants that have big trunk, relatively low growing and with big bunch.
Variety 218 is not only moderately resistant to the Fusarium wilt disease, it is also competitive with the standard vavieties in terms of eating quality, yield, acceptability in the world market, and other desirable characteristics. According to Dr. Molina who has observed the performance of the variety in other farms, one bunch yields about 1.8 boxes of 13.5 kilos each. That’s not far behind the yield of the Gran Naine and Williams varieties of Cavendish. And because the fingers are arranged in much the same way as the old varieties, 218 fruits can be packed with the standard varieties at the same time in the standard cartons.

Although there are still infections in Variety 218, Dr. Molina says that it is the best alternative that the farmers can take now. There is no such thing as a perfect variety. As of now, the big companies like Dole, Lapanday, Del Monte, Tadeco and others have adopted the new variety for planting in areas known to have infections and even in non-infected areas. Dr. Molina estimates that no less than 8 million tissue cultured planting materials have been produced by the big companies and the production is continuing.

Dr. Gus Molina and ZAc B. Sarian posing with a big bunch of GCTCV 218.
Jason’s mother Emerita is very supportive of her son’s banana project.

Mauro meanwhile is very optimistic about the future of banana production with the coming of 218. He has no problem marketing his harvest because a big producer-exporter is buying all his production. He is hopeful that he will not only make money from the fruits but also from the tissue-cultured planting materials he will produce soon.

He is also taking care of 10,000 broilers in another farm as another source of income. He says he can make 7 cycles in one year. He raises his chickens not only for their meat but also for their manure which he uses to fertilize his banana plantation. His wife Rose who is a medical doctor and his mother Emerita, a Los Baños graduate who worked with the Development Bank of the Philippines, are very supportive of his agricultural pursuits.

This is one of the affected GCTCV 218 affected by Fusarium Wilt TR4/ The sick stem was just left in the field. Note the healthy suckers that developed which are expected to produce fruits.
Dr. Gus Molina posing with a possible source of tissue culture material. The plant has big trunk, low-growing and with big blossom.
Jonas also raises 10,000 broilers as another source of income. The birds are not only raised for meat but also for their manure that jonas uses to fertilize his bananas.
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