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Taiwan's banana-producing capabilities lauded in international symposium


In an effort to elevate the nation's banana industry and to ensure the sustainability of Taiwan's agricultural sector, the Council of Agriculture (COA), the International Cooperation and Development Fund (TaiwanICDF), the Rural Development Fund (RDF), the Chung Cheng Agriculture Science and Social Welfare Foundation (CCASF) and the Kaohsiung City Government joined forces with the Taiwan Banana Research Institute (TBRI) and the Rome-based research center Biodiversity International to host a series of seminars in Kaohsiung City throughout November 2012. Themed "Banana Health Management, Use Diversification and Adaptation to Climate Change," the 2012 International Banana Symposium took place from Nov. 19-22, followed by the 8th Banana Asia-Pacific Network Steering Committee (BAPNET SC) Meeting on Nov. 23-24; both events were held at the Lees Hotel in downtown Kaohsiung.

Close to 200 attendees from Australia, the Philippines, South Africa, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Central and South America as well as Africa landed in Kaohsiung City this November. Altogether, the governmental officials and academics representing 22 nations not only offered expert advice on how to advance Taiwan's banana industry, the international exchanges also served as a platform for fostering closer business relations and research partnerships, sealing the deal on a global initiative that seeks to make this particular industry more profitable and diversified.

According to the COA, Biodiversity International's faith in the island's banana-producing capabilities is reflected in the fact that Taiwan has been selected to be a host nation for the very first time. Biodiversity International's November program was organized into two parts – international seminars and policy adjustments. The first leg of the program, oriented towards international seminars and research exchanges, addressed the impact of climate change on the banana species, the reproduction and cultivation of seedlings, management and quality screening techniques, measures to ward off pests and bacterial infection as well as the expansion of supply chains to augment global sales. The latter half of November's meetings, which was geared towards policy discussions among the 13 Asian-Pacific nation members of the BAPNET, covered the conservation of indigenous banana species, methods to mitigate the effects of climate change upon banana production and the construction of a database to store cultivation information and weather patterns. Such exchanges among regional and international groups help to disseminate agricultural skills and unify the banana production model and network across the Asia Pacific, the COA added, concluding that such pan-Asia cooperation is the key to ensuring the sustainability of the region's banana industry in the face of ever-volatile weather patterns.

The importance of the banana as a human food source cannot be denied; in fact, the yellow fruit places fourth on the world's most-consumed staples list, ranking only behind wheat, rice and potatoes, said the COA. The tropical monsoon climate afforded by Taiwan's strategic geographic location is also a key factor in the island's production of high-quality bananas, which are incidentally an import favorite among Japanese consumers because of their unique flavor. Made-in-Taiwan bananas, however, now face increasing challenges such as soaring labor costs and overwhelming foreign competition from agricultural powerhouses such as the Philippines. The COA has stepped in and is currently funding various domestic research institutes, including the co-host of November's international seminars, the TBRI. Based in the southern county of Pingtung, the 42-year-old banana center is devoted to producing tissue-culture plantlets and disease-resistant varieties as well as refining farming and harvesting techniques. With the COA's backing, the TBRI now enjoys an excellent reputation among prominent banana organizations, and the fruits of its research have made it possible for the Pingtung-based research center to be considered a worthy seminar host.

According to the COA, the government's overseas marketing efforts have paid off in recent years, paving the path for Taiwanese produce such as bananas to enjoy flourishing sales in neighboring China and Japan. The COA also helped to establish the Taiwan Banana Export Alliance (TBEA) earlier this year in the hopes that such a union will consolidate local resources and give farmers a common front. The Council stated that the success of co-hosting November's international programs alongside the world-renowned Biodiversity International gave a reputational boost to the TBRI and stands witness to Taiwan's leading expertise when it comes to all things related to bananas. Following the strengthened ties and skills exchange among fellow BAPNET members, Taiwan is poised to retake the world title of "Banana Kingdom," the COA concluded.