Japanese going bananas, also for okra

Published by rudy Date posted on April 17, 2011

MANILA, Philippines—With most of their crops already contaminated with radiation, Japan has opted to import more fruit and vegetables from abroad such as bananas from the Philippines.

Agriculture and industry officials said Saturday that Philippine bananas are providing sustenance to the quake and tsunami victims in Japan.

Roberto Amores, president of the Philippine Food Processors and Exporters Organization Inc. (Philfoodex), said the country’s bananas and high-value vegetables continued to be in high demand in Japan, which was struck by a devastating quake and tidal waves on March 11.

The country is under threat of a nuclear fallout after a nuclear power plant in Fukushima was damaged by the tsunami. The Fukushima nuclear accident is considered one of the worst nuclear disasters in the world.

Radiation from the crippled nuclear plant has contaminated plantations in Fukushima, prompting Japanese importers to buy more vegetables from abroad.

In an interview with the Inquirer, Amores said the country’s Class A and Class B banana shipments to Japan surged after the March 11 catastrophes. Bananas, Amores said, are easy to handle, store and distribute.

Aside from the premium Class A Cavendish bananas, Japanese importers have been also buying Class B Cavendish bananas from local producers at bargain prices since the quake. These under- and oversized bananas are donated to quake victims.

“That is why we don’t have many bananas here. All the Class A and B are going there,” the Philfoodex official said.

Amores said Japanese grocers sell one bunch of bananas for 200 yen and cut it into two.

“The other half is sold to the consumer, while the other half is donated to Sendai and the earthquake victims,” he explained.

Okra OK

Another crop popular in Japan is okra, Amores said. Export of okra to Japan, he said, is growing.

Shipment of Philippine okra to Japan usually stops during the first week of May. But because of the radiation scare, Japanese buyers have continued buying Philippine okras, which are mostly harvested in Central Luzon, until June 15, Amores said.

He estimated the value of the okra shipment to reach $10 million. “This is really benefiting our farmers,” Amores said.

No storage facilities

The Philippines initially offered to donate bananas to Japan after the quake. But the Japanese government turned down the offer because of lack of storage facilities and manpower to distribute the tropical fruit.

Japan is one of the country’s major markets for bananas. A total of 95 percent of the bananas consumed in Japan come from the Philippines, the Department of Agriculture said. Japan is also the country’s major market for chicken meat.

Singapore, HK interested

Aside from Japan, Singapore is also interested in Philippine vegetables, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala said.

Alcala said negotiations between the Philippines and Singapore are ongoing for the export of vegetables to that country.

“I’m talking with some traders in Singapore and we hope that in three to four months we will be sending our vegetables to Singapore. They don’t have the capability to produce,” Alcala said.

He added they are also talking with businessmen in Hong Kong for similar export, noting that the large number of tourists visiting the Chinese territory have huge food requirements.

“We have the capacity to produce. Let us make it so that we can improve the lives of Filipinos,” he said. –Kristine L. Alave, Philippine Daily Inquirer

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