The Philippine Banana Business is sagging

Yes, as you read in the title, the banana exporting business in the Philippines has been sagging in recent months.  The Davao Region, where I live, is a major exporter of bananas, so that is a big concern here.

Firstly, for those who don’t know, the title of this article is a bit of a play on words…. you see, in many of the Philippine languages, the word meaning banana is “saging,” so to say that the business is sagging, while true, is also a bit of a joke. :-)

Why is the banana business on the downward trend?  Well, because of the recent disputes between China and the Philippines.  For those who don’t know, China has been kind of using strong arm tactics to make land claims on lands that have traditionally been Philippine lands, such as the Scarborough Shoal.  There has been a dispute between a number of Asian nations for years over the Spratley Islands as well.  In recent months, Chinese Navy ships and Philippine Navy ships have been occupying the Scarborough Shoal to exert their respective claims to the area.

Bananas - Filipinos call them "saging"
Bananas – Filipinos call them “saging”

Since China is a major importer of Philippine grown bananas, this has created a problem for places like the Davao Region, where bananas are a major export.  You see, bananas that have been shipped to China have been left to rot on the docks, because the Chinese government is delaying inspection and such as a way to punish the Philippines over the maritime dispute.

Vidalia Onions - Coming to the Philippines?
Vidalia Onions – Coming to the Philippines?

Because of this de facto embargo of Philippine bananas, the country has started seeking out other export markets where they can shift their banana exports to.  Over the past few weeks, it has been announced that the Philippines has secured approval from the United States authorities to start exporting bananas to the USA.  This could turn out to be a very lucrative market for Philippine bananas, and could even open the door for other Philippine fruit exports to the USA, which would be very good news for Philippine farmers and for the country in general.  As I have been reading about this, I have been very happy that the Philippines has found a new export market, and also that this will bring benefits to the Philippine people!

Last week, though, I found out some even better news about this.  News that will benefit me, other expats in the Philippines and the Filipino people too.  What is it?

Importing US Vegetables to the Philippines

Will we see big potatoes soon in the Philippines?
Will we see big potatoes soon in the Philippines?

Yes, the Philippines and the USA are in negotiations to broaden this agreement about banana shipments to the US.  The USA is demanding that the Philippines start accepting much larger scale importation of US grown vegetables.  Right now, some US vegetables are imported to the Philippines, but quantities are very limited, and generally only allowed to be sold to high end hotels and high end restaurants.  Basically, unless it is a very unusual situation, you cannot go the grocery store or any kind of market and purchase imported vegetables in the Philippines.  But, it appears that a bilateral deal is in the works to make US grown vegetables widely available in the Philippines and to make more Philippine fruits available for American consumers.  I really see this as a win-win situation for the two countries!

When I showed this information to my wife, Feyma, she said she could not wait to start getting some sweet onions (like Vidalia onions, Walla Walla, Texas Sweets and such) and other vegetables.  I told Feyma that I was looking forward to some nice green peas, and also some good potatoes!  Will it happen?  Too early to say, but if it does, I will be very happy!

Post Author: MindanaoBob (1354 Posts)

Bob Martin is the Publisher & Editor in Chief of the Live in the Philippines Web Magazine. Bob is an Internet Entrepreneur who is based in Davao. Bob is an American who has lived permanently in Mindanao since May 2000. Here in Mindanao, Bob has resided in General Santos City, and now in Davao City. Bob is the owner of this website and many others.

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  1. scott h says

    You stole my punch line “so Sagin is Sagging”. Would be nice to get some onions and a few other vegitables that dont like runts.

    • says

      Hi Scott – ha ha.. I didn’t mean to steal your idea… I guess we just came up with the same idea at the same time! 😆 You are right, if the deal all works out, it will sure be nice to see some more “meaty” vegetables on the table!

  2. John Heitz says

    Hard times, does that mean Florendo will have to sell his helicopter? Maybe now the inmates at the DPC will get a day off from working the banana plantations.

  3. says

    We here in Anchorage, Alaska have been getting the small and large cooking banana’s for many years. However now we are getting more shipments. I like the smaller ones the best :-)

  4. says

    I like the small ones too, Matthew. They seem to be sweeter! Now, it looks like you will be getting some such bananas from the Philippines instead of just from South America!

  5. says

    Yeah we have been getting banana’s from the Philippines for years in the asian markets. However, within the last month or so I noticed them in Fred Meyer stores and now in Carrs/Safeway stores. That is great we get both kinds big and small ones. I looked on the little sticker and was shocked to see “From the Philippines” on it. :-) I bought some the other day and man, those are better then any banana I have eaten.

  6. Neal in RI says

    Sounds like a win/win deal, while they are at it they can send some good mangoes here as well. Not the Carabao Mangoes as the Wife calls them but the good yellow ones.
    I recently read a article that there have been RP/US talks on expanding short term deployments of US troops back in the RP on a rotating basis, but don’t quote me on the details of it.

    • says

      Hi Neal – Yep, they are still talking about additional fruits and veggies in the deal. I am sure Mangoes will be talked about! But, since you are moving here anyway… don’t let your wife worry too much! 😆

      As for the military thing.. you are spot on. Those talks have been ongoing. The US Navy just had some joint exercises with Philippine Navy down in GenSan a week or so ago too.

    • says

      Hi Neil – The Carabao mango as you mentioned are by far the best mango in the Philippines. The difference between yellow and black spotted mango is they are sprayed to reduce the insect attack which also enhances their appearance whilst growing and this variety is mainly exported.
      The small native mango is the one that is mainly for domestic consumption and grown in small farms, I love mangos me.

      • says

        I don’t know, Jim.. I think that the Cebu mango is far superior to the Carabao mango. I think Neal is talking about the green and red mangoes, which are the most common in the States, not the yellow ones that have black spots on them.

      • Neal in RI says

        I am still stuck here in RI, and the Mangoes here that the Wife calls Carabao are kind of green and they are sour, however when we can find the yellow ones they are the very sweet but pricey, can you imagine $ 1.00 for 1 Mango.

        • Ricardo Sumilang says

          Neal, you may not know it, but those green and sour mangoes you mentioned make for a perfect pulutan in many barrios in the Philippines. One of my fond memories of the Philippines is that of a bucolic barrio scene at dusk when farmers – freshly bathed and with hair slicked back with Brilliantine pomade – gather around in front of Neneng’s barrio sari-sari store for a tagay session that can last until the wee morning hours. If not pusit or grilled fish, slices of green mangoes and a bowl of bagoong alamang take center stage on a dulang beside a large bottle of unrefrigerated gin and a single glass. The glass is filled the equivalent of a shot, straight up (no ice cubes), and passed around the dulang for each man to drink his turn. Straight up and dry, chased with water and a slice of the green mango slathered with bagoong alamang, and the men find their escape from the grinding poverty, if only momentarily. To complete this scene of the sweet, simple life in a tropical paradise, across the street from the sari-sari store where the tagay session is ongoing, the ladies of the barrio gather around the fish vendor from the nearby coastal town. The ladies poke at the fresh catch of the day, still squirming in a palangana, already running through their mind how best to cook the little fishes, sometimes bisokol (escargot), to feed a family of 12, with enough left over for breakfast the following day. LOL I will end here before I get carried away.

  7. ScottF says

    This is AWESOME news!!!!!! When I first began readign and following the trouble in the China Sea about China overstepping their grounds on what they thought was their land and rights, I was hoping that the United States would step up to bat. With the current administration I was not holding my breathe, but it would seem that we are going to actually do something to help. The Philippines and the Filipino people have suffered through soem hard times, and they have always seemed to take it in stride and show their pride and dignity. With these new steps in bringing negotations between our two countries, I think that this is really going to help the economy of both ailing economies.

    With the massive growth in China, it is like a small child suddenly getting a growth spurt. It will either become the bully of the class, or will learn that it’s size can help others in many ways. I hope it is the latter, because no matter how big you get, there is always someone bigger willing to knock you down.

    • says

      Hi ScottF – Indeed, it will be good to see if this goes through. Once things are on the mend with China, and that market is back online, it will really be a boon for Philippine farmers.

  8. says

    Hi Bob. I actually watched a documentary on the issue on the banana growing areas with many growers simply letting their crops rot on the ground. Such a shame. In these instances it always makes me wonder why producers don’t diversify into value adding or processing. In my travels I have seen enormous wastage due to oversupply (tomatoes, pineapples etc etc) and this at a time where people are starving all over the world. On the import export front. I am with you. Can’t wait to see more OS produce in the Philippines. Realistically though, with the GEC we will see more closing doors than opening ones. Ciao D

    • says

      Hi David – I find it hard to beleive that banana growers in the Philippines would just let their crops rot on the ground. The reason why I say this is I see daily truck loads of rejected bananas from the packaging plants here where I live going down to the city to be regraded for local sale with the others being converted by local cooperatives into chicken feed by cutting them into pieces and solar drying them. This dried banana is then collected and mixed with other ingriedients and sold to the chicken farmers. So their is really no waste from growing bananas.

      • says

        Jim – we have a banana field a few hours north of Davao. It’s not even worth the money to fertilize right now. It’s been lying fallow for 2 years and the seedlings we planted already died due to price of fertilizer vs the selling price of bananas.

      • Gary Covington says

        You used to be able to buy reject nanas by the roadside at Panacan – the missus used them for pigfeed or banana-cake (Covington feed)

    • says

      Hi David – I have not heard of such a thing. Was it Philippine farmers that were letting their crops rot? In the Davao region, they use the bananas that don’t pass muster to make pig feed. I just can’t imagine them letting the bananas go to waste. They even dry them to make banana chips. So, indeed, they do use value added methods to make use of all of the crop.

      • says

        Hi Bob. Possibly it was “journalism” at its best (read worst) but the images from Davao showed rotting bananas under black plastic all along the roadway. Silly me for believing the footage. (Sarcasm)

          • gemma says

            Hi, de-lurking here as I have very close ties to the banana industry in davao.

            i got very worried for my folks who have a banana farm in malalag when china started rejecting philippine banana exports. our farm employs around a hundred workers who are going to starve in case it shuts down given the high unemployment in the homeland, though things are just as bad as from where i live. my parents, however, remain unaffected by the “embargo” as they continue to supply del monte with bananas for exports.
            this is quite baffling as my folks are just any other banana grower and yet were spared from the wrath of china. or perhaps the reports are sensationalizing?

          • Gary Wigle says

            The Mindanao Times wrote a story about throwing bananas away. Right in Davao. They had pictures too. Bananas are a big deal here in Davao del Norte. They need a new market!!!

          • jonathan says

            Bob it was in the news some months back at the height of the tension between China and the PH. I saw it on TV Patrol.

  9. donna west says

    NO!!!!!!I dont want food from America. I am going to retire in the Philippines because I believe I will be healthier from a better food supply grown on the islands. For generations, American fruits, vegetables, and meat have been ruined by genetically altering them. I think its great though that RP can send its bananas to the U.S. anything RP can do to boost their economy is a real plus.

    • says

      Hi donna – many of the vegetables here are of low quality, and some types of vegetables that we are used to eating are not even available here at all. I think it will be a real plus to see some US grown veggies here.

    • says

      My too, Greg. My mouth is watering. I love Walla Wallas. I have a friend back in Washington State who brings me one every few years! Can’t wait for the next one.

  10. says

    Hi Bob – In our particular area of Bukidnon the main farms produced corn and grew rubber. About 15 years or so ago Del Monte and Dole came along and offered to lease large tracts of land from farmers and started to produce bananas. Recently the banana has been attacked by a disease which has depleted successive banana crops and consequently particularly Del Monte has given up banana production and moved over to pineapple.
    I have to disagree on importation of main food crops like vegetables etc., as the only way the Philippines will get on their feet economically is to grow their own food which to me is a number one priority. Without doing so all the hard earned £,$ and €’s will just flow back out of the country making by comparison a few people rich and the Philippines will not get to use this foreign exchange to build their badly needed infrastructure without large scale borrowing putting them in even more debt.
    Although it’s nice to have a taste of home just think of the economic consequences it will cause here!!!

    • says

      Hi Jim – Of course pineapple is also a big crop in Bukidnon, di ba? It is my understanding that the initial banana shipments to the States will be from Dole in South Cotabato, but hopefully that will grow to many other areas of the Philippines.

      I believe that importing veggies in order to make a foothold in the export of fruit is a net plus for the Philippines. The US market is much larger than the Philippine market, so you can only imagine how much of a net plus it will be. Also, the class of veggies that will be imported are simply not available here, or of inferior quality.

  11. says

    Hi Bob – By importing and not developing the various vegetable crops here is not in my mind a net plus as all their doing is spending the money gained from exporting the banana. That to me is a nil- nil draw. There is vast areas of the Philippines suitable for growing allsorts of vegetables so let it begin I say, and create more employment.

  12. says

    The first thing I thought of (before you said it) was big onions!! How many little ones can you peel before getting frustrated? This is also potential good news for our banana field that’s lying fallow. I could get used to real potatoes too.

  13. BrianInVermont says

    Bob, you have to change the title of your book to 50 ways to make a living in the Philippines. I could get rich being the Henry Davids of american vegatables to the PI. ha ha

  14. Don says

    I am all for some decent onions. Even in Manila-Bonfacio at Metro in Market Market, I have a hard time finding a decent sized and non moldy red onion.

    I wonder how Philippino bananas will fare against the ones imported from the Caribbeans. Those look perfect, albeit taste is not that great. I havent tried any local bananas as its really not great to look at (smallish and usually bruised).

  15. PapaDuck says

    Thats great news for both countries and expats alike. It would be nice to have access to alot of the veggies that you can find in the US, including good lettuce and string beans and peas when i move there. Thanks for all the good info. Take care have a nice day.

  16. kanoy says

    This is good news, I’ve lived here 6+ yrs and veggies, like most else, are ”hit & miss” in SM/Robinsons, like asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, never seen Brussels sprouts, have many times seen frozen USA veggies, not cheap, I never knew we did not import fresh US veggies I put the lack due to poor management and growing season

  17. Jon B says

    Only mangoes from Guimaras can be exported to the CONUS. Mangoes from all other provinces can only be exported to Guam and Hawaii. As far as Philippine cavendish bananas go, an expanded EU market may be the better way to go. IMHO, I don’t think Philippine growers are going to be able to compete with the likes of Ecuador, Costa Rica because of freight costs and the time it takes to ship hard green bananas across the Pacific. A brother-in-law of mine was part of the Department of Trade and Industry mission to the EU 3 weeks ago and they are very optimistic about expanding that market. Again, they still have to figure out the most efficient cost and logistics.

  18. Bob New York says

    Most of the imported fresh ( non-processed ) tropical climate kinds of fruit I have seen in the supermarkets where I am are from South America. Oranges if not from Florida are from Brazil, Pineapples from Costa Rica. I have seen canned and vacuum packed fruit from The Philippines.

    I saw a video a while back about ” Designer Produce ” that many of the big supermarket chains here demand from growers. They must be of a certain size, shape, color etc to be accepted by these chains. Many of those that are perfectly good but do not fit the designer specifications are rejected and wasted. Maybe some of this could be exported.

    I still wonder about the time and distance from the USA to Philippines and freshness. By air I think it would be very costly, by ship, very time consuming and then it is import, inspection and distribution within The Philippines. Still, if some things are getting there although costly, maybe more things could.

  19. Hudson says

    Hey Bob,
    I love wala wala’s, but they are hard to find even here in SoCal. I have been told by a couple of produce managers that because of their high surgar content, they have a short shelf life, and therefore don’t stay on the shelf’s very long.

    I remember taking a trip to Sequim, WA. Before I left for SoCal I loaded up with Dungeness Crab, smoked Salmon, and a 100Lb bag of Wala Wala’s. Of course I knew I couldn’t bring produce into California. So I took a small paper bag and put 4/5 onions in it, and the remaining under the sleeping bags in the back of the Astro van. When We got to the produce inspection point in California I was asked if we had any produce. I told them I had this small bag of onions. I was informed that they would have to be discarded before we went any further. I did, and off we went with the rest of the Wala Wala’s :)

  20. Loren Pogue says

    Hello Bob,
    I was a little surprised in reading your post when you mentioned looking forward to having some good potatoes imported. I love potatoes and was very pleased with the potatoes we were buying in Olongapo last time I was there. They had more of a yellow skin, like some here in the U.S.A. and were just as good flavor wise as the red potatoes. They were a bit smaller though. I think Pees when processed right have just about the same taste frozen as the fresh ones although I never looked for any frozen ones while there. We all have different taste though. Perhaps it is the sour cream and butter for the potatoes and the good cream for the Pees that cause them to be as good as they are in the U.S.A.

    • says

      Important to remember that Olongapo is not Davao, nor is Davao Olongapo . In Olongapo where there are a lot of expats compared to anywhere in Mindanao, you get a different variety of vegetables than we get down here. I don’t really enjoy golf ball sized potatoes! 😉

      • Loren Pogue says

        The potatoes we were buying in Olongapo were more the size of an orange and were grown some where around there. I have not been in Davao but some of my wife’s family farm close to there and I was under the impression that your Island was the best part of the PH to grow things. Maybe I was misinformed.

        • says

          Hi Loren – Indeed, Mindanao is widely regarded as the best agricultural area of the Philippines. But, as I mentioned, we cannot get large, good potatoes here. You are not misinformed, it’s just that not every vegetable is available here.

  21. LeRoy Miller says

    This article reminds me of a research paper I did when I was working on my MBA.

    The discussion started out along the lines of, “why do the good produce (generic term for foodstuffs) get shipped and why do the inferior quality stay close to the point of production?”

    The short version is that shipping, packaging, and handling costs the same for high quality product as it does for spoiled. By default, the producer will ship the highest quality to maximize return on investment.

    A wise business person will do just that and then look for ways to use the remaining product in a value added way. An example would be to ship the best bananas and then take the second quality and find ways to maximize their use. Dried banana chips sold to food processors for trail mix, health food stores, etc. would be only one example.

    In my business consulting work, we have had several situations where the “by products” that had been thought of as waste turned out to be the highest income for that business. With some thought and effort that could happen here.

    As always, often times, a down market is an opportunity in disguise.

    • says

      Hi LeRoy, your thinking and mine go hand in hand, particularly your last sentence. I often tell people that the best time to start a business is when times are tough.

      • El Moro says

        Lagi amigo, sakto. Anyway, Mindanao banana can still explore the local market. What is needed is efficient means of distribution and transport to areas where banana supply is lacking and of high prices. In our place, Bicol, lakatan from Mindano (not Class A quality) usually sells at PhP 35 to 40 a kilo. Tag pila man diha sa Davao bay? Wa pa PhP 20 per kilo?

          • El Moro says

            Ha ha ha… Ok lang ko diri Bob, Sorry dili ka diay ang marketing manager diha, si Feyma. Parehas lang sa among balay Bob, most of the time ang atong role is customer (pero kasagaran finance officer). Anyway Bob, this problem on banana export to China, on the brighter side, might open new businesses to the growers in Mindanao. Banana chip, a healthy food option, may pave way as new product variant to face head on with traditional snack foods and chips. As usual, you always come up with nice articles Amigo…..

    • The Mouse says

      My opinion here is that Philippine banana growers need to expore and research on the possibilites on prolonging the life of lacatan and luntuduan and non-cavendish bananas.

      Why? Aside from these are the most eaten in the Philippines, there is a BIG possibility that the Philippines will have a “monopoly” of these native non-cavendish. Cavendish is not big in the Philippines because of its bland taste. Westerners don’t know any banana beyond Cavendish. If the PH is successful in prolonging the shelf life of native non-cavendish… not only do they get the domestic market, but international market as well. That might even get Cavendish growers in South America bankrupt. LOL

      I live in the US and the “closest” Philippine banana I can get here is banana chips! The “bananas” are mostly from South or Central America

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