Executive Director's Corner

Narratives from Agribusiness Experts

Narratives from agribusiness experts

Philippine Daily Inquirer / 12:12 AM February 13, 2017

There are agribusiness “heroes” in the country. Many succeeded solely by their own efforts, and helped others, too. Here are some of their stories.


Rolly is a veteran Chinoy trader (his full name withheld upon request). He has encyclopedic knowledge of the world market for fresh produce and other food products.


He provides some valuable insights on the mango industry.

Philippine mango export is on a decline as predicted by importers and traders in Hong Kong and China in 2012. It is gradually losing its market due to several factors.

First, short shelf life of five to eight days.

Second, high percentage of skin damage when ripe. Reducing it means subjecting the fruit to hot water treatment (HWT) to kill possible fruit fly larvae. But HWT will result in even faster ripening, unless shipped in cold storage. To avoid fast ripening, the fruits subjected to HWT are normally immature. As a result, when ripe, these mangoes are not very sweet.

Third, grading is dependent on the exporter. Some fruits are graded poorly, thereby affecting overall price, as it is sold cheaper just to move the goods.

Fourth, the market is flooded during peak Luzon season, causing prices to drop. At times, mango in Hong Kong and Shenzhen (China) is cheaper than in Manila. Large and XL, which are not in demand in Japan, are passed on to Hong Kong and China exporters, but these fruits are 105 days when harvested. Mature fruits are 120 to 125 days. So quality and sweetness are poor.

Fifth, Carabao mango requires flower inducer (potassium nitrate). With eight sprayings per crop, the cost is very high. Flowering is a 50/50 chance with climate change.

In India, Australia and South America, efforts are made for the development of new and better varieties that do not need flower inducers. They have been at it for over three decades and they have come up with better varieties. Filipinos have been patting their backs that the best mango in the world is Carabao. Incidentally, Thailand has already crossed Carabao with local varieties.

Sixth, exports to Korea have dried up as far as 15 years back. While those to Japan had shrunk by 50 percent, resulting in the closure of several vapor heat treatment plants: Marsman, Dole. Exports to Hong Kong have gone down by 70-80 percent. The fruit puree markets, other than a few, are dead. Though dried mango export has continued to be strong, it will slow down eventually as fruit prices are very high.

If the government is serious and wants to help farmers, it must try to secure new and better varieties. There is a need to make a market study as to what variety is acceptable and graft our existing mango with the variety.

Shallot (Sibuyas Tagalog)

According to Dave, Indonesia is the biggest buyer of Ilocos shallot. Some 600 vans are exported yearly. But Filipino farmers have been planting shallot from sprout, rather than seed, and thus transferring inferior quality and disease.

Indonesia, with the help of a Holland seed company, is shifting to plant 200,000 hectares (ha) of shallots using seeds. Though the seeds take longer to grow, the sizes are more uniform, and volume of harvest is higher.

It is high time to pay attention to shallot as it is a major crop in Ilocos and Batanes.


The Philippines can produce onion in Mindanao, and it has been proven that it can be produced during Luzon off-season. But, the Department of Agriculture (DA) is not paying attention. Better to import?


Garlic can be produced in places other than Ilocos and Batanes. In Bicol, they did it. All it needs is better seeds, and better size. Why plant small size, with very small weight volume of harvest, when bigger bulb can be planted and harvested? Weight wise, it will be two or three times

Grouper (Lapu Lapu)

Philip Ong, president of Santeh Feeds, a company engaged in the manufacture of animal and aqua feeds, shares that lapu lapu culture is not that successful in the Philippines unlike in Hainan, China.

Grouper fry is the main constraint. The cost of breeder maintenance and limited fry market make hatchery cost high. Also the cost of natural food (by-catch fish) is high due to competition for food use. In China, consumers do not eat small catch. In the Philippines, consumers are used to eating such fish.

Ong does not favor farming carnivorous fish for export. But in reality, the said fish are high-value products. The Philippines can farm seaweeds, and grow sea urchins and abalone. But the long culture period requires corporate farms.

Ong grows pompano in large floating cages in Bataan.


Arsenio “Toto” Barcelona, president of Harbest Agribusiness Corporation, is the sole distributor of Known You seeds of Taiwan. He also distributes irrigation and greenhouse equipment from India and Israel.

Toto, no academic background in agriculture, probably knows more about vegetable production than most of the agriculture graduates. He learned by passion and experience. Toto conducts one-week hands-on training in vegetable production from land preparation to transplanting to maintenance.

In a UA&P briefing, Toto discussed the realities in the vegetable industry. In production, planted areas are spread out all over the country; the use of F1 hybrid seeds coupled with improved agronomic technologies can increase productivity and farmers income; the government seed distribution and training program is still “piece meal” approach; there is scant government support in breeding program; and crop varieties are highly dependent on imports.

In marketing, the rapid urbanization of major town and cities provides great livelihood opportunities for quality farmers; the ever-expanding supermarket chains provide a ready market for quality vegetables; poorly planned and bad politics of bagsakan and agri-pinoy trading posts project resulted in public’s animosity; the example of successful government intervention like the ATI trainings and sentrong pamilihang bayan are worth emulating as models; growth in tourism provides more opportunities for farmers and traders; and a more responsive department of agriculture and its convergence activities with other agencies may result in the more efficient distribution of goods and better income for farmers.

Suggestions for 2017 onwards: Improve irrigation projects intervention by NIA, Bureau of Soils and Water Management (BSWM) and local government units (LGU), specific for vegetables growing areas; promote the use of drip irrigation technology; review farm machines procurement method by DA and LGU; strengthen credit and financing intervention; and strengthen role of SUCs as technology provider.

Farm consolidation

Former mayor Eddie Guillen of Piddig, Ilocos Norte, pioneered rice farm consolidation anchored on zanjeras (Spanish-era irrigators associations). The initial 100-hectare farm with 100 farmers yield six tons per hectare from 3.8 tons before the project, or a 60 percent jump. Net farm income almost doubled following mechanized land preparation and harvesting, irrigation and full inputs. Farmers who worked were paid minimum wages. Thus, they have two sources of incomes: Farm dividend and wages.

Management scarcity

Ramon Reyes, of the Mama Sita fame, doubts whether small farmers can transcend from being subsistence farmers to agribusiness entrepreneurs, despite heavy training and financing. Only managerial competence (which includes technical knowledge), coupled with entrepreneurial spirit, can modernize Philippine agriculture to global standards.

He feels that “It is better for our aging small farmers to retire and live off from rentals from their land. Agrarian reform advocates must realize that land and peasant equal subsistence agriculture. Or land and peasant plus finance equal heavily-indebted farmers. Modern agriculture requires entrepreneurial initiative, professional management, capital, well-paid skilled farm workers, and land (the factors of production).”

For decades, Mama Sita has been trying to source raw materials from farmers referred by the DA. But due to the above-mentioned circumstances, the company has not been successful in doing so.

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