Davao veggie farmers face big challenges

by Gregorio G. Deligero

DAVAO CITY and its neighboring agricultural areas comprise the second biggest producers of the country’s vegetables, second only to the Mountain Province.
But the industry faces a lot of challenges that need to be addressed with urgency.
Davao City is likewise one of the biggest consumers of vegetables with a daily consumption of around 280,000 tons of assorted varieties, making the city a crucial player in the industry. The problems which have remains unchecked have something to do with the demand and supply marketing patterns.
Although the city contributes a minimal share in the entire production of vegetables in the Davao Region, it serves as the trading center of supplies coming from neighboring provinces, including even those outside the region like Bukidnon and in Central Mindanao.
In Region 11, the biggest producer of vegetables are Kapatagan, Digos City, Davao del Sur; Marahan in Marilog District in Davao City; and Maragusan in Compostela Valley, according to Rey Acain, president of the Vegetable Industry Council of Southern Mindanao (VICSMin). Acain discussed the issues to be tackled by the summit during last Wednesday’s Club 888 Business and Tourism Forum at the Marco Polo Hotel.
He said both Kapatagan and Maragusan produce semi-temperate vegetables or the so-called salad type such as lettuce, cabbage and broccoli and tropical vegetables, or the so-called pinakbet type such as okra, eggplant and squash.
In Davao City, the top five vegetables consumed daily are cabbage, eggplant, ampalaya, squash and okra.
To help mitigate the effects of the global economic slowdown, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is pushing for the large-scale production, processing and manufacture of nutritious and affordable vegetable-based foodstuff like noodles, bread, burger patties, meatless sausages, cookies and juices for the consuming public, notably those in the marginalized sector.
Acain however said the volume of vegetable production that the farmers are willing and ready to produce will largely depend on the viability of the marketing structure engaged with the traders.
“Farmers will produce more if they believe they can earn more. But if they see that they cannot be compensated enough for their labor and capital, they will go for seasonal and limited production, mainly intended for their own sustenance, not for commerce,” he said.
“Low-pricing by traders has always been the complaint of farmers,” he added.
Another problem Acain cited among the farmers is the high rate of post-harvest losses and wastage due to poor transportation system and product packaging and handling.
“They normally load the vegetable products in sacks on which passengers sit,” he said, adding that post-harvest wastage reach as much as 30 percent of the total production.
Acain said that traders have repeatedly raised several issues against farmers, especially in their classification of the products’ quality and the lack of consistency in supply.
One classic complaint is that the farmers would place Class A products at the upper part of the sack or basket, but the middle or bottom portions are reserved for products of lesser quality although the pricing is based on what is in the upper portion. 
To address these issues, the VICSMin will spearhead the convergence of vegetable industry players such as farmers and traders through the conduct of the first National Vegetable Marketing Summit on April 22-33, 2009 being co-organized by the Department of Agriculture in Region 11.
Acain said the summit seeks to showcase the various issues and challenges related to marketing of vegetables in the country. It also aims to put together proposed action plans to “enhance the existing supply chain for vegetables through improved quality of produce, better post-harvest handling, more efficient logistics, more transparent trading system, direct linkages between growers and buyers and opportunities for higher value-adding.”
He said the participants, estimated at 700, will come from as far as Benguet Province, considered as the vegetable capital of the country.
“This event shall endeavour to promote government and private sector partnerships to enhance the local marketing system for vegetables. In particular, it will highlight existing market opportunities and linkages, promote business networking, identify specific market niches and showcase opportunities to improve over-all competitiveness of the local vegetable industry,” Acain said.