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PIA Press Release

Bananas from former battle zone make way to supermarket chains

Matanog, Maguindanao (18 March) -- "This area used to be planted with corn," said Baitan Guinta, waving her hand over hectares of intensely green banana trees.

The thriving banana plantation, managed by the 25-member Lucrative Agri-Development Multi-Purpose Cooperative, has made regular shipments of top-grade lakatan bananas to Agri-Nurture Inc. (ANI), a Manila-based supplier of fresh fruits and vegetables to leading supermarket chains SM Hypermart and Makro.

Guinta, who is secretary of the cooperative, says they are now expanding their 11-hectare production area in order to accommodate growing market demand.

Nobody in this community expected that such an enterprise would take off, much less flourish, in an area which nine years ago was caught in the armed conflict between government troops and rebel forces, just a few kilometers away from the area known as "Camp Abubakar."

Guinta recalled that as peace and order were gradually restored, Matanog growers began looking for alternative crops to plant. At that time the price of corn, the area's traditional crop, had dropped to an all-time low.

One of her sisters happened to attend a seminar on lakatan banana production conducted by USAID's Growth with Equity in Mindanao (GEM) Program under its Targeted Commodity Expansion Project, in partnership with the Department of Agriculture (DA). GEM technicians noted that the area around Matanog was conducive to banana farming.

"The price of lakatan was relatively stable, and if you follow good production protocols, you'll have good bananas," said Guinta, "So we began thinking of growing lakatan ourselves, using land which had lain unproductive for years."

Guinta, a certified public accountant, also bought reference materials on farming, and visited plantations to observe the production process

She and a small group of fellow farmers then made their leap of faith and formed the Lucrative Agri-Development Multi-Purpose Cooperative.

Today, the co-op produces some of the finest lakatan bananas in the central Mindanao region.

Lucrative MPC signed its marketing agreement with ANI at the Mindanao Fruit Encounter, a promotional event organized last year by the Mindanao Fruit Council, with support from the GEM Program and DA. "This was our opportunity to enter a major market," Guinta said.

With its partners, the GEM Program has to date trained about 2,100 farmers in improved production technologies in horticulture and aquaculture.

Since its third phase began in January 2008, GEM's marketing assistance to Mindanao producer groups and exporters, including some located in conflict-affected areas, has led to about $2.8 million in booked domestic out shipment and foreign export sales.

According to Guinta, other residents in Matanog and nearby areas are now planning their own farming start-ups after witnessing the success of Lucrative MPC. "Our plantation has become a sort of 'demo' farm," she said with pride.

Matanog Vice Mayor Farida Lidasan-Ampatuan said that the municipality's burgeoning banana industry and its other higher-value agricultural ventures are vital sources of livelihood.

"This a way for us to regain what was lost during the many years of conflict," Ampatuan added. (GEM-PIA XI) [top]

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