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Taiwan’s latest crisis: farmers going bananas over glut

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen reportedly threw a tantrum in a cabinet meeting and told off the island’s agriculture officials over the slumps in prices of home-grown bananas due to tepid exports and an oversupply at home.

Tsai blamed poor planning and lax oversight when farmers in southern Taiwan, particularly those in rural Pingtung county, rushed to grow bananas in anticipation of further price surges.

Tsai is a native of Pingtung and it was voters in southern Taiwan, many of whom were owners of plantations, who propelled her triumphant run in the 2016 presidential election.

The island has more than 6,000 hectares of banana plantations producing an annual supply of 190,000 tons.

Taiwanese banana growers have been entangled in cutthroat price wars, with top-graded bananas falling to NT$6 (20 US cents) per kilogram and lowest-graded (Grade C) to NT$1 (3 US cents) per kilogram, according to an agriculture official.

In previous years, wholesale prices would typically sit between 50 and 65 US cents per kilo.

Observers say Beijing’s economic lockdown of Taiwan exports has had a knock-on effect on banana exports to China, while bananas from across Southeast Asia, particularly the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam, as well as China’s own tropical Hainan province, have quickly carved up the Chinese market.

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Officials and representatives from food companies attend a news conference about measures to shore up banana prices. Photo: Taiwan News

Meanwhile, Taiwan News reported that the island’s food-processing giant I-Mei Foods Co had rushed to alleviate the woes of banana farmers with a pledge to procure an additional 200 tons of bananas to shore up prices, as part of the government’s price-stabilization initiative.

The company would buy bananas at a price nearly three times the current market levels, according to the report.

I-Mei chief executive officer Luis Ko said the company would help local farmers. When asked by media about what would become of the newly procured bananas, Ko said the company would store them in freezers and develop new banana products to add value to them.

The company has drawn recruits from the Philippines, with a slew of direct-hiring interviews and orientations held in Davao throughout the past year. Reimbursement of airfare and visa fees was on offer to lure workers to help process I’Mei’s stockpile of bananas.

The government has also inked a deal to export 12 metric tons of bananas per week to the Middle East, starting from June 8.

Taiwanese netizens have come up with creative ideas like banana juice, banana soybean milk, and banana pudding that could help drive up demand.

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