Amid opposition, banana farmers drum up support for HB 5085
Mindanao banana farmers are on a nationwide tour to drum up support for the passage of House Bill 5085, otherwise known as the Agribusiness Ventures Arrangements in Agrarian Reform Lands Act.
The farmers hope to buck strong opposition from banana growers who opposed the bill as it would dampen business interest in plantations.
Rolando Torintera, manager of Davao Fruits Banana Growers Agrarian Reform Cooperative, assured banana growing multinational companies that “the AVA bill will not actually threaten the agribusiness as it will open a more participative environment where farmers are given more safeguards in securing their basic rights as farmers.”
“It merely establishes a balanced relationship between the agrarian reform beneficiaries and the company,” Torintera added.
House Bill 5085 is being deliberated in two committees at the House of Representatives. Torintera noted that most of the committee members were not from banana-growing areas such as Davao Region which why they have to make an effort to get public support.
According to a draft of the proposed bill, it is an “entrepreneurial collaboration between ARBs and private investors in the implementation of an agriculturally-related business venture involving lands distributed under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).”
Lawyer Irvin Sagarino, of the Initiatives for Dialogue and Empowerment through Alternative Legal Services which is helping Toritera’s group, claimed that most of the existing contracts between the farmers and the companies were prepared solely by the banana producers.
“The companies sell the fertilizers and other inputs for the land and will buy the products of the farmers as well. The prices of the products however often remain low while the prices of the inputs are solely controlled by the company,” Sagarino said.
This was disputed by Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA) executive director Stephen Antig, who denied any irregularity in the contracts between landowners and growers.
“They are making it appear that we are taking advantage of the agrarian reform beneficiaries but we cannot do that because there is a contract. If they are not agreeable then do not sign it,” Antig said.
Antig said the proposed law only made it difficult “for investors to engage in agribusiness”, calling Congress instead to leave any joint venture arrangement or any agreement to contracting parties.
But Sagarino argued that the AVA bill would guarantee the participation of the farmers in the farm management operations and ensures the productivity of the land and the incentives. (PNA/Mark D. Francisco)