BANANA (Musa spp) increase local demand in Malaysia for considered as one of the world’s most popular fruits remains robust. Malaysians love bananas fresh or cooked. Bananas fried in batter or pisang goreng, are one of the most liked local snacks enjoyed by many during tea breaks. Ripe bananas can also be made into sweet fritters called 'jemput-jemput' in Johor and 'cekodok' in Kedah, Penang and Perlis. Johor is also famous for kerepek pisang (banana chips) made from green bananas. The fruit is believed to have originated from India where it is mentioned in the Buddhist Pali writings dating back to the sixth century BCE and India is the world’s biggest producer of bananas. The name “banana” is African and comes from the Arabic word banan meaning finger and was carried to the New World by Portuguese slave traders. Most of the world’s edible bananas are from the species Musa acuminata or the naturally occurring hybrid between Musa acuminate and Musa balbisiana. From my observation as senior Agronomist, there are about 1,000 types of bananas sweet, savoury, round, bent, straight, green, yellow, pink, silvery, even spotted and striped.
From statistic release by Department of Agriculture, although there are no official statistics on how many bananas are sold in the country annually, demand for the fruit is always there. A company named Kulim Sdn Bhd said the company is among the pioneers to start the large-scale cultivation of Cavendish bananas in Malaysia in 1997, under its unit Kulim Montel Farm (KMF). Montel is the company’s registered trademark and the brand name for its Cavendish bananas sold domestically and in overseas markets. Kulim Bhd is one of Johor Corp’s prize assets, and has about 40,000ha of oil palm plantations in Johor. Initially, bananas were planted at the Ulu Tiram Estate as a single or mono crop, but in 1997, the operations were moved to the Tereh Selatan Estate in Kluang, Johor. “Here (in Kluang), we decided to intercrop the bananas with the newly-planted oil palms for three years to fully utilise our planting areas in the estates,’’ said Nasharuddin. He said, after three years, the banana plants have to make way for the oil palms as having them side by side would create “competition among themselves to get the
best nutrients” from the soils.
In 2007 KMF’s operations were moved to Basir Ismail Estate (formerly known as Nam Heng Estate) in Kota Tinggi, Johor. Presently, the banana plantation occupies about 579.69ha in the 3,700ha estate. KMF manager Omar Rohani said plans are already in the pipeline to open new areas for the cultivation of bananas in the Basir Ismail, REM and Renggam Estates starting from this year until 2017. He said 265ha would be opened this year in the estates to be followed by 263ha (2014), 222ha (2015), 252ha (2016) and 258ha in 2017. “This will put us in a better position to capture the growing demand for Cavendish bananas in the domestic market,’’ said Omar. He said the annual production of bananas at the Basir Ismail and REM Estates had increased steadily, beginning with 847 tonnes in 2008 and 2,309 tonnes in 2009. Production in 2010 however, went down to 1,905 tonnes. The drop was due to the outbreak of diseases but went up again to 3,055 tonnes in 2011. Last year, the figure stood at 6,512 tonnes and for this year, the forecast is for 6,512 tonnes. Omar said, in 2009 the company recorded RM3.4mil in sales from Montel Cavendish bananas. This dropped to RM2.4mil in 2010. In 2011. the figure went up to RM3.6mil, and last year it was at RM8.1mil. “We are looking at making RM10.7mil in sales this year and we are optimistic of reaching the target based on the increase in areas planted with bananas,’’ he said.
KMF’s Montel Cavendish bananas are marketed by Kulim Bhd’s subsidiary JTP Trading Sdn Bhd via trading agents and supplied to a hypermarket chain. KMF was awarded the Malaysian Good Farming Practice certification from the Agricultural Department on July 15, 2010, and Malaysia’s Best certification on June 23, 2011. Asked why the company decided to plant Cavendish bananas imported from the Philippines, instead of existing varieties grown in the country, Omar said this is due to commercial reasons. “In fact, we had a choice of either getting the Cavendish from Brazil or the Philippines when we first started our banana cultivation, but decided to settle for the latter,’’ he said. Omar said customers love the Philippines’ Cavendish bananas as they were “slimmer and sexier” as well as sweeter while those from Brazil’s are “rather fat” and less sweet. He said, unlike local varieties such as pisang berangan, pisang emas, rastali or pisang tanduk, the Cavendish has higher yields of 35 tonnes per hectare for a three-year planting cycle against 20 tonnes from local species for two years.
Omar said the growth patterns also differed in first year, with Cavendish bananas producing medium-sized fruits, followed by large-sized in the second-year and extra large in the third year. “However, local species will produce large-sized fruits in the first year and started shrinking in the second or the final year of the harvesting cycle,’’ he said. Omar said the Philippines’ Cavendish bananas also have better immune systems against banana-related diseases such as fusarium (root disease) and sigatoka (leaf disease). He said both diseases are of foreign origins and many banana growers in Johor, especially small holders planting local varieties, suffered major losses during outbreaks in recent years. “Even now, there are no cures or remedies and at the rate of the diseases spreads to other parts of the country, our local banana species will be totally wiped out within the next five years,’’ said Omar.
He said when the outbreaks started about three or four years ago, it only happened in Johor, but now it has started to spread to other states including Perak and Selangor. Omar said, on the other hand, the Philippines, well known for its large Cavendish bananas plantations, was spared the outbreak which hit Malaysia and Indonesia. He said apart from the diseases, another issue facing a company like KMF, is labour shortages as banana cultivation is labour-intensive.
Omar said much of the work on the plantations has to be done manually but locals are not interested, so KMF has no choice but to bring in foreign labour. “One major issue facing local banana gro-wers is the flooding of cheap bananas from the Philippines in the domestic market, which is able to enter the country illegally,’’ he said. Omar cautioned that, if the problem is not solved immediately, Malaysian banana planters, especially small holders, would suffer losses or have to close shop.
Source: The STAR News/com/my.
Room 303, MAYRES Hotel,
Kota Tinggi, Johor BAhru,
(3 Rejab 1436H)