Sep. 1, 2015
Philippines ranks after India and China in banana production in the world. In Philippines banana is the leading fruit grown after pineapple. The crop is also a consistent export earner for the country. It is estimated that the country has an existing production area of approximately 450,125 hectares that produces a volume of 9,165,046 MT of fruits annually. The production is gaining every year due to rapid expansion of the cultivation areas specifically in Mindanao province. Davao region attained the highest production with 3,854,835 MT followed by Northern Mindanao with 1,725,775 MT in annual production as per industry data.
Banana production is limited by a number of pests such as Banana bunchy top disease, Bugtok. Reddish brown vascular discoloration caused by bacteria, Fusarium wilt, caused by a fungus are a few to name. Aside from these diseases, banana is also susceptible to insect pests like the banana brown aphid, mealybugs, thrips, and corm weevil. Containing these problems is crucial to protect livelihoods of small-holders and in the process, protect the supply of bananas to lucrative local and international markets.
However over the time Black Sigatoka, which is also known as black leaf streak disease has become the predominantly important disease in Philippines. The disease causes significant reductions in leaf area, yield losses of 50% or more, and premature ripening, a serious defect for exported fruit for the market.
In practice, Black Sigatoka is controlled with frequent applications of fungicides and cultural practices, such as the removal of affected leaves, and adequate spacing of plants and efficient drainage within plantation. In total, these are very expensive practices. For example, fungicide application includes the use of airplanes or helicopters, permanent landing strips and facilities for mixing and loading the fungicides, and the high recurring expense of the spray materials themselves. In total, it has been estimated that the costs of control are ultimately responsible for 15-20% of the final retail price of these fruit in the importing countries.
Aerial spray practice
Environmental groups in the country however have been calling the banana industry to ban aerial spraying, as this poses various health and environmental threats. Two organizations namely The Interface Development Interventions (IDIS) of Davao City and Mamamayan Ayaw sa Aerial Spraying (MAAS) insists that pesticide drift coming from an aerial spray plane causes sickness in resident communities. In addition to humans who are caught in spray drifts, concerns also come from the growers of backyard vegetable farms a common practice in rural areas of Davao, who are living in the fringes of the banana plantations. Backyard gardening is a common feature in most rural households as this provides extra nourishment for the family. These vegetables often get included in spray venture affecting their marketability and consumption domestically.
However it has been shown across the world that aerial spraying is cost effective and provides quick and easy coverage of a large area. The present cost in the Philippines is on an average, PH Peso 68,600/hectare year for large plantations. It is speculated that the large plantations prefer aerial spraying because shifting to the ground spraying will impose additional PH Peso 28,700/ha/year in costs. In addition ground spraying will require additional infrastructure development in order to maximize the results of the ground spraying method. This includes need of additional road networks and trucks, as well as additional labor.
Ground spraying ventures
The prevailing confusion and polarization in thoughts have given opportunity to a number small and medium companies to provide services of ground spraying methods by use of truck mounted or manual spraying. One such company is 1618 Enterprise Corp based in Davao city which uses truck mounted boom sprayers to spray fungicides and insecticides into banana fields. The work is not only efficient in coverage, but also checks harmful drifts which is the primary concern. However these system are serving well for small to mid-size farms at present. Many such company are now getting into contract servicing using ground spraying methods.
Aerial spraying also uses a much concentrated fungicide mixture during application due to good penetrability of the application to the standing crops. Whereas a ground spraying would require a much more carrier such as water to get an even spray, mush of this comes from the fact that horizontal spray is generally hampered by blockage of the spray by leaves of the standing crops. This often makes ground spray less efficient and time consuming.
A study by Interface Development Interventions, Inc. (IDIS) showed that a shift from aerial to ground spraying resulted “to an increase in potential gross profit from P116,000 to P138,200 per hectare per year, or an incremental profit of P22,200” for every small banana farmer. This is because small farmers, who are contracted by the plantations to grow the exportable Cavendish bananas, no longer have to pay for the aerial spraying which is being administered by the banana companies,” Ann Fuertes, IDIS executive director, said in a statement as reported in the media recently.
However the present conflict is not between the method of spraying, but towards safe and sustainable disease prevention method which is often overlooked when reported over media. Efforts have moved to use aerial spraying in core or center of the plantations and using ground spraying in the edges and fringes are being worked upon to control spray drifts.