Little Panay is located in Panabo City, Davao del Norte. It is called Little Panay because many of the settlers came from Panay Island, mainly Iloilo and Antique.
Braulio Española Dujali led the first group that settled first in Cotabato in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Davao del Norte town is named after him.
Land from the formerly Japanese-run abaca plantation and owned by National Fiber Company (Nafco) was available. Abaca farms reportedly suffered from the deadly bunchy top disease, and had to be planted with other crops.
My family was part of the diaspora in 1950. It was a major move from Pigcawayan, Cotabato, where my parents first settled in 1933.
My parents got 10 hectares (ha) and my grandmother, six ha. They planted upland rice, corn, ramie and some coconut. I spent my childhood years there up to Grade 3.
Little Panay was a subsistence barangay at first. While it was administratively part of Panabo, access then was difficult due to the lack of a bridge across the Lasang river. To reach it, one must pass through Lasang, a Davao City district, which served many upland barangays.
The five-kilometer earth road from the barrio to the national highway was in bad state. It was impassable during heavy rains due to the large potholes. One can either walk or take the sole transport vehicle which was a World War II Willy Jeep. The 27-km route to Davao City in the early 1960s was dusty. The eight-km concrete road started only at what is now Waterfront Insular Hotel.
By the 1970s, a new route to Little Panay was built from Panabo poblacion. A bridge was constructed spanning the Lasang river. A high school was started. By around 2000s, roads to the barrio and upland barangays were graveled and being concreted. Land values increased.
Circa late 1950s, my parents had a sari- sari store fronting the elementary school. They were in a buy-and-sell business of copra and corn. My family planted rice, which was later irrigated using the water pumps loaned by the National Irrigation Administration.
When the oil crisis came in the early 1970s, diesel costs skyrocketed. Pump irrigation stopped due to poor economics. This was exacerbated by the drying up of the river source following the conversion of forest lands into farms in upstream barangays.
Our immediate neighbors were Gregorio Dujali and family. He later became mayor of Panabo and governor of Davao del Norte, then comprising Davao del Norte and Compostela Valley until 1998. Governor Dujali was an elective governor for two terms until March 31, 1986. His brother Ben, an engineer with PLDT, later became Vice Mayor. Ben was the father of the current Davao del Norte Vice Governor, Aldo.
The nearest doctor was in Lasang. Young Luis Buenaventura from Malabon was a UP-PGH graduate who decided to practice in a distant place. He was the father of banker Alex who is currently Land Bank president.
In earlier times, Panabo was a barangay of Tagum City until 1949. Many years later, Panabo was transformed into the banana capital of Asia. It became a city in 2001. Panabo is the home of the world’s largest banana plantation, the Floirendo-owned Tagum Agricultural Development Company. Davao International Container Port, a world-class container port, now handles most of the banana exports to Asia and the Middle East.
Most of the upland rice and corn farms were slowly converted into Cavendish banana, mainly by land lease in Little Panay. In 2004, our 10-ha land was leased to a Dole contract grower with advance payment for 10 years. The same lessor eventually bought the land in 2015.
Banana is far more labor-intensive (300 man-days per ha) than the rice-corn sequence (100 man–days per ha) and coconut (40 man-days per ha). Thus, incomes have dramatically increased in the barangay.
Meanwhile, many locals could not afford to grow bananas due to the high investment costs. As a result, moneyed people from outside bought lands as well as leased them from local landowners.
The land use transformation of Little Panay was driven by the market and economics. The farm lands were not suitable for rice. The market for bananas in Japan was expanding as the Philippines supplanted Taiwan as a key banana supplier. Davao was typhoon-free compared to Taiwan.
A key lesson is economics. There was more profit in banana than in rice and corn. It also employed more labor. But external capital was needed as banana is highly capital-intensive and modern farm management was doubly needed.
The experience of Little Panay most likely mirrors the experiences of other places. The country has so much idle and underutilized lands. There are market possibilities that can be tapped.
However, locals have little capital and management. And the environment to lease or buy land is restrictive in the country. Thus, there are foregone opportunities to tap the growing markets of Asia.
(This article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines or MAP. The author is the Chair of the MAP AgriBusiness and Countryside Development Committee, and the Executive Director of the Center for Food and AgriBusiness of the University of Asia & the Pacific. Feedback at <firstname.lastname@example.org> and <email@example.com>. For previous articles, please visit <map.org.ph>)