PHILIPPINE BANANA FARMERS: Their Cooperatives and Struggle for Land Reform and Sustainable Agriculture

By David Bacon

Thirty years ago many banana workers in the Philippines made a radical change in their work and lives. They transformed the militant unions they had organized to wrest a decent living from the multinational corporations that control much of the world’s food production. Instead of working for wages, they used the country’s land reform law to become the owners of the plantations where they had labored for generations.

It was not an easy process. They had to fight for market access and fair prices against the same companies that had been their employers. But they developed a unique organization to help them, that provided knowledge and resources for forming cooperatives. Twenty years ago FARMCOOP and these worker/grower cooperatives defeated the largest of the companies, Dole Fruit Company (in the Philippines called Stanfilco). As a result, today the standard of living for coop members has gone up, and workers have more control over how and what they produce.

FARMCOOP became the source of everything from financial planning and marketing skills to organic farming resources and political organizing strategy. FARMCOOP then developed an alliance with one of Mindanao’s indigenous communities, helping it start its own coops that combine the use of local traditions with organic and environmentally sustainable agriculture.

The experience of both sets of cooperatives points to an alternative to the poverty that grips rural people in the islands. The Philippines is an economically poor country-the source of migrant workers who travel the world to work because they can’t make a living at home. More of the world’s sailors are Filipinos, for instance, than any other nationality, recruited in shapeups each morning outside Rizal Park in Manila.

According to the FAO, “Only the remittances of migrant workers to their families have enabled the latter to survive crippling poverty brought about by stagnant agricultural productivity, stiff competition from cheaper food imports, and periodic droughts and floods that devastate crops and livelihoods.”

The struggle of FARMCOOP and the cooperatives created an alternative to forced displacement and migration, changing the lives of their own members, and providing valuable experience for workers and farmers elsewhere in the Philippines, and in other countries as well.

— This report serves as evidence of workers’ collective strength to take control of their lives and weaken the grip of corporations that dominate the world’s food supply. This report also highlights the challenges faced by the cooperative farmers and indigenous communities struggling to battle environmental destruction and plant diseases through sustainable agriculture. —

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