Banana farmers and lawyers called for fair contracts and rural development in a media briefing at Quezon City this World Food Day 2017, Oct. 16.
“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.”
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, hunger, poverty, and the adverse effects of climate change are the leading causes of rural migration. This WFD 2017, the call is to “Change the Future of Migration” by investing in food security and rural development.
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.
Additionally, in times of climate-related disasters and calamities, the contracts have no provisions for insurance coverage. This was the case in 2012 when Typhoon Pablo (International name Bopha) hit and caused massive destruction of banana plantations in Mindanao.
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. “These unfair contracts must be revoked because it does nothing for those who break their backs from working. Small farmers and food producers deserve more support and protection than what they currently receive. We deserve better.”
Atty. Irvin Sagarino, legal officer of IDEALS, said that the proposed House Bill (HB) 5085 or the Agribusiness Ventures Arrangements (AVA) in Agrarian Reform Lands Act might just make things better for small banana farmers.
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).”
“While multinational companies continue to expand its operation due to its massive profit from banana exportation, our banana agrarian reform beneficiaries continue to live in poverty,” he said.
The AVA bill guarantees the participation of the farmers in the farm management operations and ensures the productivity of the land and the incentives. It also requires a periodic review of the terms in the contract and gives the farmer beneficiaries the right to rescind these contracts.
“There is no question that they are at a losing end with respect to the current set up of their respective contracts,” said Sagarino. “Banana growers’ poor grasp of the law and the company’s act of taking advantage of their lack of comprehension have greatly contributed to their suffering.” #