Banana industry warns regulation of grower contracts could affect employment

November 28, 2017 - 12:15 AM
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Philstar file photo of Philippine bananas

DAVAO CITY — The banana industry said a proposal to regulate agribusiness venture agreements (AVAs) will cause the sector to decline and affect employment in Mindanao, the key growing area for the export commodity.

Stephen A. Antig, executive director of the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association, Inc. (PBGEA), said that the proposal in Congress is among the threats to the industry.

“Instead of pushing for regulation (of AVAs), the government must find ways to help this ailing industry which has provided so much, especially to agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) in this part of the country,” Mr. Antig said.

He said the industry currently has to deal with challenges like disease in the banana crop and extortion from the New People’s Army.

“Contracts should be respected as they are negotiated between intelligent parties voluntarily,” he added, noting that what the government should do is provide guidance “to ensure fair and equitable terms.”

Meanwhile, the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) said last week that regulating the AVAs may have a negative impact on the supposed beneficiaries instead of helping them.

The TUCP said that while the government must step in to protect vulnerable sectors, it “also insists that the government must also be equally effective in performing its function as a provider of a stable business and investment environment.”

Congress and the government in general must not “introduce new rules that will drastically disturb the already existing productive and working business arrangements in the rural areas that are already benefiting hundreds of farmers, workers and their families and communities.”

The TUCP added that these venture agreements, particularly those in the banana industry, have helped the ARBs as they are provided with better livelihoods.

The proposals to regulate AVAs are contained in House Bill 5085, authored by Ifugao Rep. Teddy B. Baguilat, Jr., and Senate Bill No. 1351 by Senator Risa Hontiveros.

Several lawmakers, particularly Mr. Baguilat and the Makabayan bloc, have been pushing for the approval of AVA regulation.

In a public hearing held in Davao City last week, Mr. Baguilat said the bill’s goal is to establish mechanisms that will institutionalize these agreements and promote collaboration between the parties.

“AVAs should not be a threat to the ARBs’ land rights but should give incentive to develop their lands and improve their productivity,” he said.

Mr. Antig said stakeholders appreciate the holding of consultations on the issue and “hope that the committee will be objective in their decision and come up with a final version that will be a win-win solution.” —