|In 1987 activities to support self-reliance of the people living in Negros Island developed into grass-roots trade in Balangon banana. After many trials and errors, the trade has grown and bananas are being shipped from other parts of the Philippines as well.|
Support to Solidarity
During the1990s , Negros Island, the so-called "sugar pot of the Philippines," was severely hit by a drastic slump in sugar prices on the international market. Out of work, people on the island faced hunger. As an emergency relief measure, food and medical supplies were sent to the island. Then the trade in Mascobado sugar started from 1987.
Import of Mascobado sugar to Japan started as "people's trade", a form of "aid" to achieve self-reliance of the people in Negors. Fair trade would help people become empowered. However, it became clear that support for people in the island could not be attained by sugar trade alone. Thus the local banana was suggested as a new item for trade.
In those days, Japanese consumers were becoming aware of the danger of imported bananas grown on large plantations using chemicals and fertilizers. Thus the trade in Balangaon bananas naturally grown on the island was welcomed by consumers in Japan who were looking for safe bananas and eager to support people's survival struggles in Negros.
The Balangon banana was chosen as an item for people's trade as it met the following requirements.
(1) Balangon is grown in Negros, and is easily cultivated without destroying the environment.
(2) Export of the banana would affect neither people's diet nor the local economy. (Local consumption of Balangon bananas is so small that its export would not affect the market price.)
(3) Balangon bananas are grown without chemical application.
(4) People's trade in Balangon would lead to changes in living and life-styles of people in both the Philippines and Japan.
After many twists and turns
People's trade in Balangon was launched, but the first cargo of bananas arrived in Japan rotting and black in color. Growers used to selling their bananas in the local market did not know how to asses the stage of maturity of the bananas for export to Japan. Shipping of "people's trade bananas" experienced many twists and turns. Then in 1992, when the amount of shipment was increasing steadily, the banana-producing areas were severely hit by a large-scale typhoon. But this natural disaster helped people in Negros to initiate diversification of farming on their own.
By 1993 the banana production areas were steadily recovering from the typhoon damage. Then, however, the areas were damaged due to continuous cropping. As too many bananas were planted in the mountains where the Balangon were grown naturally, the soil was adversely affected and the banana trees became vulnerable to disease. The outbreak of disease was caused by the project's prioritizing of economic independence. Based on this lesson, the people's banana trade began to pursue environmental sustainability.
Within a few years, the amount of banana shipped to Japan gradually increased and the production spread from Negros to other islands, including Luzon, Panay, and Bohol.
For a long time the Balangon's weakness as an export item lay in instability of supply due to the frequent typhoons and quality instability. Then in 2000, Balangon Renewal Program (BRP) was launched to overcome the problem of disease as well as to improve people's livelihood on the island. To secure a stable supply, the production areas expanded to Mindanao as well as new areas in both Negros and Luzon. Control of the stage of maturity and managed cultivation are also underway to achieve better quality.