The head of the technical committee of the Philippine Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA), has assured farmers and environmental advocates that aerial spraying of fungicides in the vast banana plantations of Mindanao is safe.
Dr. Emily Fabregar made this assurance late last month when she presented a paper on "Global Positioning System: A New Technology for Farm Application," during the foundation celebration of the University of the Philippines in Mindanao (UP-Min) in Davao City.
She joined a panel of experts in the lecture forum spearheaded by CropLife Phillippines and the Initiative for Farm Advocacy and Resource Management (iFARM) on February 25, 2009.
Dr. Eufemio Tan Rasco Jr.’s book “The Unfolding Gene Revolution” recognized as the NAST “Outstanding Book of the Year 2008,” was also presented during the forum at the UP-Min's College of Science and Mathematics.
Dr. Fabregar said the use of GPS has greatly reduced the risk to humans since the system automatically shuts of spraying equipment when it leaves the target area.
Aerial spraying had been banned in Davao City based on an ordinance that the Court of Appeals (CA) later determined to be unconstitutional.
Fabegar said the “intelligent spraying” systems employed by PBGEA are also controlled via GPS.
The Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority (FPA) requires 50-meter defaults along the area perimeters of the plantations to be sprayed.
Showing a video clip of an actual aerial spray run by a PBGEA fixed-wing plane, the cut-off mechanism clearly showed that the misty spray stopped before reaching the boundaries (identified by a river in the clip) with enough room to spare. This should allay concerns expressed by some quarters regarding off-target spraying in banana plantations.
Dr. Fabregar emphasized that such GPS-controlled mechanisms are now employed in all banana plantation spray runs since it reduces the volume of fungicide used. GPS allows no room for pilot error that may cause drift or off-target spraying.
The fungicides are sprayed on banana plants to prevent a fungus called sigatoka from spreading. This fungus attacks banana leaves and causes premature ripening and freckles on the fruits. With premature ripening and freckles, bananas cannot pass export quality control.
Aerial spraying is considered the most cost-efficient method for addressing the sigatoka fungus problem.
Dr. Rasco said in a previous forum on science-based agriculture conducted in January at the Grand Regal Hotel in Davao City that the most cost-effective solution to the sigatoka problem was aerial spraying.
He stressed it was funny that the ban was imposed on the solution to the problem besetting the banana industry.
Dr. Fabregar also said the fungicide used in the aerial spraying was diluted with water in the spraying solution to be even less potent than over-the-counter anti-dandruff shampoos that are sold everywhere and used even by children. A common cause of dandruff is a fungus like sigatoka.
As an early result of the initial ban on aerial spraying in Davao City, Lapanday has closed its Mandug Farm, a banana plantation within the city. More than 150 hectares of a previously viable and productive banana farm has been lost due to an ordinance that was enacted rather precipitately, according to critics.
IFARM has been calling for a science-based agriculture that pays a premium on risk assessment and management.
It also backs the use of safe and responsible use of all farm inputs, particularly those used in protecting cash crops for both domestic and foreign markets. (iFARM)