Sunday, July 29, 2012

DA Bats For Vegetable Sufficiency

Agriculture Secretary Proceso J. Alcala is setting his sights on achieving sufficiency in vegetable supply. Alcala told 1,000 participants attending the 10th National Vegetable Congress in Butuan City on Tuesday that after ensuring self-sufficiency in rice by the yearend of 2013 that he is determined to "achieve self-sufficiency in vegetables." He batted for the annual conduct of the vegetable congress, promising an annual outlay of R500,000 to support the activity. He noted that since the country is only 65 percent sufficient in vegetables, it has to promote vegetable production to eliminate foreign vegetables in the market by 2016. To achieve this, Alcala said the Department of Agriculture (DA) has been fortifying the campaign of the High Value Crops Development Program (HVCDP) to raise output and promote vegetable gardening in the uplands and the lowlands as well. Annually, the DA chief disclosed, every Filipino consumes 40 kilos of vegetables, which translates to a yearly demand of 3.8 million metric tons (MMT) of vegetables for roughly 95 million Filipinos. Yet, Alcala stressed, the national per capita consumption of vegetable is far removed from the recommended dietary requirement of 146 kilos per year set by the World Health Organization (WHO). Thus, what is required is to raise the per capita consumption of vegetables and boost production to be at par with the WHO standard. Alcala urged the congress participants to forge marketing agreements with institutional buyers and consumers and plan their respective production and harvest schedules for each commodity. This should be done to obtain reasonable profit and avoid oversupply and sudden drop in prices. In this regard, he revealed that the DA has met with major vegetable traders from Divisoria wholesale market in Metro Manila to determine their vegetable supply and demand requirements. Alcala said this is necessary for farmers' cooperatives and individual farmers to plan their planting schedules, production targets and harvest periods. The dialogue resulted in the DA's learning that there has been an oversupply of tomatoes even as the traders warned of a possible flood of imported onions as the Christmas season approaches. Alcala reported to the congress participants that the consultation will be conducted regularly as the DA, through the Agribusiness and Marketing Assistance Service (AMAS) and HVCDP, seeks to match and directly link farmers' groups with wholesale market traders and institutional buyers. The idea, he explained, is to provide producers and sellers comfortable profits while assuring consumers of regular supply of reasonably-priced, safe and quality vegetables. To boost vegetable output, Alcala said DA is identifying areas less susceptible to flooding and drought that can serve as expansion areas for growers. Alcala said these areas are needed to supply vegetables during the off-season in traditional farming areas like Benguet, Nueva Ecija and Bulacan. This year, HVCDP has allotted R643 million, or about one-half of the program's total R1.3-billion budget, to undertake initiatives to sustain the vegetable industry. A similar budget is proposed next year. During the congress spearheaded by the Philippine Vegetable Industry Development Board (PVIDB) and Caraga High Value Vegetable Cluster, Inc., Alcala responded favorably to 10 resolutions presented by PVIDB Chairman Marcelino Remotigue. He said the DA, through the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), will strictly implement phyto-sanitary quarantine procedures on imported vegetables aside from crafting a vegetable credit program, in consultation with the PVIDB. This will be patterned after the pilot "Sikat-Saka" for rice implemented in four provinces by the DA in partnership with the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP). A comprehensive vegetable production and marketing training program in partnership with the PVIDB, University of the Philippines in Los Baños (UPLB), and DA Regional Field Units (RFUs), Agricultural Training Institute (ATI), HVCDP and AMAS will also be initiated. On the resolution to establish techno demo farms that will produce organic vegetables in strategic areas, Alcala urged PVIDB and farmers' groups to go into commercial-scale production, with DA providing technical and marketing support. He asked PVIDB to discuss with AMAS its proposal to establish vegetable trading centers but said a major vegetable trading center will soon rise in Benguet. Other farm trading centers will be established Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. The DA will also conduct a regular production and marketing survey of major and high value crops at the regional level in partnership with the PVIDB, DA-RFUs and the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (BAS).