Opportunities as well as challenges abound in the vegetable industry in the Philippines. That was the gist of the message of Dr. Mary Ann Sayoc during a recent media briefing convened by East-West Seed Company at the Bonaficio Global City in Taguig. Dr. Sayoc is the general manager of East-West Seed.
She pointed out that the Asia-Pacific is a huge $2-billion vegetable market that could grow to $3-B by 2021. It is a market that might as well be targeted by local vegetable producers.
The sad fact, however, is that the Philippines only has $240-M share in the growing Asia-Pacific vegetable market, lagging way behind Japan, Vietnam and Indonesia and has to regularly import more than $3-M worth of vegetables every year.
A little bit of good news, Dr. Sayoc said, is that annually, the country’s vegetable production is increasing by almost 2% and the growth of area being dedicated to planting vegetables is at 1.7%.
She hastened to add, however, that while the country’s annual growth rate for vegetable production is close to 2%, it is not enough to meet even the local demand for vegetables. That is why we still need to import more than $3-M worth of vegetables a year which could ideally be supplied by our local farmers.
Dr. Sayoc said that East-West Seed, which is one of the ten largest seed companies in the world, hopes to remedy the situation by influencing more farmers to earn more by planting vegetables in addition to their existing crops. East-West is doing this by making vegetable farming easy and accessible and providing smallholder farmers with the improved seeds and teaching them modern techniques.
Dr. Sayoc has identified three challenges facing the local vegetable industry. One is our inability to compete in the billion dollar Asia-Pacific vegetable market. Another is the perception that vegetable is not a profitable business. The third challenge is the low volume of vegetables thereby affecting food and nutrition sustainability. She hastened to add, however, that East-West Seed is helping to address these challenges.
The inadequate supply of fresh produce is another reason why Filipinos are among the lowest consumers of vegetables in the Asia-Pacific region on a per capita basis. Dr. Sayoc pointed out that the Philippines consumes less than half the vegetables that Vietnam does.
Over 30% of the Philippine population is overweight and malnourished. She believes that a higher intake of vegetables can help remedy the problem. And this can happen if there as an increase in the availability of vegetables that are affordable.
Dr. Sayoc said that for all the problems facing the local vegetable industry, the solution could start with one quality seed. “If we provide farmers with quality seeds, then they get better yield and they would earn more. When growers see vegetable farming as a profitable venture, this leads to a better supply of fresh produce in our local market and lower importation. If more vegetable farmers become successful, they can completely change the perception that vegetable farming is not a lucrative business because the truth is that there are thousands of vegetable farmers out there in our fields right now who are earning more than most professionals.”
A new program that was recently launched by East-West Seed is the “Go Grow” project that targets first time and amateur farmers. This project provides the neophytes the technical planting guide and the right varieties most appropriate for beginners.
The Go Grow seed range was carefully selected to include easy-to-grow vegetables with strong potential in the market such as sitao, hot peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, ampalaya, okra and squash. Go Gow is the only vegetable seed product in the market that includes a card with specific instructions on cultivation and a QR code that links farmers to an only Plant Doctor service to help manage issues with pests and diseases as they arise, says Dr. Sayoc.
Go Grow also includes a planting calendar, guiding the farmers from the seed sowing stage until they vegetables are ready for harvest