Banana farmers and lawyers lauded the Congress for bringing the agribusiness bill hearing to Davao City but continued to urge them to strengthen their efforts in helping farmers revoke and renegotiate their contracts with multinational companies.
“This can be truly considered as positive developments of the government’s efforts to help the agrarian reform beneficiaries. It certainly gives hope to our many farmer-beneficiaries who have been affected immensely by the adverse effects of their existing contracts with their investor-companies,” said Atty. Irvin Sagarino of the Initiatives for Dialogue and Empowerment through Alternative Legal Services (IDEALS Inc).
On Thursday, November 23, a public hearing for the House Bill 5085 or Agribusiness Venture Agreement (AVA) Bill will be conducted in Davao City. More than 50 banana farmers will be attending the said hearing.
AVA, according to the proposed bill, is an “entrepreneurial collaboration between ARBs and private investors in the implementation of an agriculturally-related business venture involving lands distributed under Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).”
On Friday, November 24, the government will also engage the private companies into a dialogue.
“We commend this action of the Congress,” said Sagarino. “However, they should always take into consideration that for so many years, it is only the multinational companies that positively benefit the effects of the contract while the farmer-beneficiaries continue to live in poverty.
The AVA Bill, for Sagarino, is an “optimistic progress to give a balanced and harmonious relationship between farmers and multinational companies.”
“The bill will not only end unfair contracts that absolutely put the agrarian reform beneficiaries at a disadvantage but also see to it that their rights are amply protected and established,” he added.
However, this move is still subject to a legislative procedural matter before it can be considered a law.
Sagarino recommended that further engagements and strengthening of efforts be done with the representatives in Congress to hasten the approval of the bill to prove the sincerity of the government to help their situation.
“It is but very timely that the government should give priority also to this bill as it will surely help those farmers who remain impoverished because of their existing contracts with multi-national companies, although they have already been awarded lands for them to cultivate,” he said.
“We depend on our banana farms for everything because it’s our only livelihood,” said Rolando Torintera, banana farmer and manager of the Davao Fruits Banana Growers Agrarian Reform Cooperative (DFBGARC). “But because of our unfair contracts with big companies, instead of earning money for our families, we are pushed deeper into debt and poverty.”
In the Philippines, DFBGARC is just one of the many banana farmer cooperatives who are tied to 10 to 15-year contracts with SUMIFRU Philippines and other multinational companies who export our bananas to countries like Japan, China, and regions like the Middle East.
According to several agribusiness venture agreements (AVA) contract reviews done by IDEALS, it was found that most of the contracts favor the companies and is the primary cause of the financial losses of the banana farmers.
In these contracts, the farmers have no control over the prices of the inputs and the prices of their produce. According to Torintera, when they started managing the farms, the fertilizers were only P400 per bag, now it has a minimum price of P1000.
Despite this drastic increase in the prices of the inputs, the prices of their bananas remain the same. Since 2008, a box or 13.5 kg of bananas is only bought by SUMIFRU for $3.00. The banana farmers only recently secured the price of their bananas up to $4.25.
Other companies, however, buy a box of bananas for $6.00. As of October 2016, the Freight on Board (FOB) price of Philippine bananas already range from $4.00 to $8.00. The Philippine Exporters Confederation – Davao even slated the price up to $10.00.
Torintera explained that whatever they have left for profit is “still not enough to pay for their land, loans, and for their daily expenses” and they have no other choice but to ask for the revocation of these contracts and for better protection of the rights of the farmers.
In 2016, Philippine Banana exports amounted to US $618.8 m or approximately Php 31 billion. Local banana growers, however, have not enjoyed the fruits of this big industry.
“Our banana business contributes billions of dollars in export, but why don’t we feel it?” said Torintera. “We hope that positive developments will stem from this hearing. We dream and hope that we can be given the chance to live better lives.” #