Wed, Nov 05, 2003 - Page 10 News List

Banana farmers must bunch together, group says

By Jessie Ho  /  STAFF REPORTER

Local banana farmers and legislators urged the government yesterday to liberalize banana exports, saying that an export monopoly has jeopardized the industry that once brought in foreign cash and earned the nation the nickname "Banana Kingdom."

For decades, the Taiwan Province Fruit Marketing Cooperative (青果合作社), a non-profit organization composed of farmers, has handled the nation's banana exports, mainly to Japan, which accounts for 10 percent of domestic production.

However, banana export vol-umes have suffered a persistent slump since the late 1960s, from 400 million boxes during the 1963 to 1968 period when the Japanese government first allowed exports, to a sparse 2.1 million boxes last year. The market share in Japan also shrank from 85 percent to 3 percent over the same period.

"It's the cooperative's monopoly on the export that kills off our way of living," Huang Wu-chung (黃武忠), a representative of banana farmers from Pingtung County, told a public hearing yesterday. "We deserve the right to sell our products without being exploited by a third party."

The wholesale price of banana exports in Japan is about NT$60 per kilogram, but Huang said farmers only receive about NT$13 per kilogram.

In response, Hsu Fu-kuan (許福崑), general manager of the cooperative, said the average sales price in Japan is NT$48.3, and the cooperative merely charges NT$16 per kilogram, which includes handling fees, custom duties, packing and shipping, while its Japanese counterpart collected the NT$19.1 on the same items.

"We are not a profit-oriented organization, and therefore have a transparent pricing policy," Hsu said. "The drop in sales volume comes from insufficient supply from banana farmers."

As the production costs of Taiwanese bananas have been growing over the past decade, Japanese farmers have started to rent lands in the Philippines to grow Taiwanese varieties of bananas, Hsu said. As a result, many banana farmers quit the business.

According to the Council of Agriculture, the production volume of bananas fell from 550,000 tonnes 10 years ago, to 220,000 tonnes last year. Aside from the 10 percent exported to Japan, the other 90 percent were consumed by the domestic market, the council said.

Hsu defended the existence of the cooperative, saying that it helped to protect the interests of the large number of small-scale banana farmers. He warned that the liberalization of fruit export regulations could lead to falling prices due to market competition, which in turn may destroy the industry as a whole.

One economist agreed with Hsu, saying the opening for export channels will destroy this agricultural business here.

"Like high-tech products, agricultural products also need a brand name and quality guarantees to sell in the world market," said Show Ching-ren (蕭清仁), an agricultural economics professor at National Taiwan University.

He took New Zealand's kiwi exports as an example. New Zealand also employs one channel to export kiwis, which strictly monitors the quality and thus builds up a good reputation for the product in the world, Show said.

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