In 2022, the Philippines exported more than 2.2 million metric tons of bananas, placing them as the third largest exporter of bananas globally in the Global Banana Export Ranking. Even as one of the country’s most valued export commodities, the banana trade has always been one of inequality, trouble and turmoil, where many banana farmers experience poverty in the Philippines.
The Island of Mindanao
Ironically referred to as the “Land of Promise,” Mindanao has always been known for flourishing agriculture, severe poverty and civil unrest. Approximately 84% of the Philippines’ bananas originate from the island of Mindanao, home to around 25% of the country’s population. Yet upon this flourishing island lives over 35% of the country’s poorest.
Mindanao’s rural and indigenous farming communities suffer from poverty, poor road infrastructure and a lack of access to basic services such as electricity and water. This is a dire contrast to the richness of natural resources and opportunities it holds.
The History of the Banana Industry in the Philippines
With a tragic and torn colonial history, Filipinos have suffered for generations under colonial rule. With greed for the natural richness and potential the Philippines has always offered, the country fell to the exploitation of U.S. and Spanish rule, and poverty in the Philippines increased significantly.
When global internationalization and major food corporations infiltrated the banana industry of the Philippines, farmers became landless and suffered hunger from feeding everyone but themselves. As they no longer owned the farms, these banana farmers also found themselves imprisoned by unfair wages and poverty.
It was not until just over 30 years ago that the farmers began to claim back this land through the Philippines’ Land Reform Law. Challenging the corporations that had held them enslaved for so long and forming the cooperative FARMCOOP to continue spreading autonomy among Filipino farmers in Mindanao.
The FARMCOOP Foundation has now spread throughout Mindanao and much of the Philippines as a grassroots NFP Organization working alongside rural and indigenous communities to support growth and opportunity. Since 1995, it has supported more than 6,000 farmers, empowering them to further the potential of their farms and yields sustainably and reduce poverty across the Philippines.
The Impact of Natural Disasters & Panama Disease
Natural disasters and various crop diseases now threaten bananas, among much of global food production. There has been a significant drop in Filipino banana production and export, which has knocked it to third on the Global Banana Export Ranking.
Specifically, severe weather changes, including increased periods of rainfall, flooding and droughts, have impacted farming in the Philippines. Multiple typhoons have severely cost the Philippines over the past decade and in July, devastating landslides ripped through the country.
Banana farming in the Philippines has also struggled due to the increase in resistant crop diseases, such as Panama Disease. The use of fertilizers & pesticides has dramatically increased crop yields. However, one can see the prevalence and potential of massive crop loss to disease with a drop in decrease year on year.
Hope for the Banana Growing Industry in the Philippines
As of May 26, the World Bank has invested in a $100 million project to support Mindanao Farmers, known as the Mindanao Inclusive Agriculture Development Project (MIADP).
MIADP is being implemented to allow farmers of Mindanao to sustainably increase yields and productivity while protecting the natural riches it boasts. In recognizing the severe poverty of the island, the intention is to encourage and provide resources that support and educate the farmers to create a more inclusive and fair food industry.
The program will likely educate and support Mindanao Farmers, encouraging sustainable farming techniques, utilizing Indigenous knowledge and helping improve climate resistance. In doing so, it is reducing poverty in the Philippines’ banana industry. The investment will also help improve local infrastructure, including education, ‘all-weather roads’ and health care access. The program should benefit 120,000 farmers and fisherfolk across Mindanao.
Another initiative, working with banana farmers in the Philippines and collaborating with FARMCOOP, is Banana Link. Banana Link is a global organization working with banana farmers worldwide, advocating for a fair and equal banana industry.
It has been working in the Philippines towards achieving its key objectives:
- Fair and ethical trade across the whole production chain.
- Dignity and rights for farmers and trade unions.
- Sustainable production of bananas.
Its program has furthered the support and the future of global banana farming. It ensures that the benefits are shared equally throughout, reducing poverty in the banana industry in the Philippines.
Given the dark history of the Banana Industry of the Philippines, projects like these and organizations like FARMCOOP and Banana Link will give banana farmers living in poverty in the Philippines an opportunity for a better life. Doing so will allow their futures to be as bright as their bananas.
– Lucy Blake
Photo: Wikipedia Commons