IMMEDIATELY after his return from Canada , President Aquino shared to the nation what he saw as the “positive fruits” of his visit. I was about to cheer wholeheartedly at the efforts of Mr. Aquino when he mentioned the words “ blueberries” and “cranberries .” He said there are Canadian businessmen who might invest in commercial cranberry and blueberry plantations here.
Did they really say that? Or was it a case of supportive but overpromising Canadian business groups that so wanted to support Mr. Aquino’s investment-generation drive that their investment pledges went into unrealistic overdrive? Who would not be gladdened by the glorious spectacle of commercially raising blueberries and cranberries here? Just the excess production or the product overruns that would go into the domestic market would be a gift to millions of diabetics like me and Mr. Bas. Berries, unless juiced and wallowing in sugar, are good for diabetics.
But then we have to ask this question. Were the pledges to invest in berry plantations mere cases of overenthusiasm?
The sad truth is raising commercial-scale blueberries and cranberries here is just like raising durian in sandy Pampanga. It can’t be done. No way, now how. One can do it, but it would have to end up as a fool’s quest. Raising crops on a commercial scale is primarily about one thing – location. Or, to put it simply, soil type. There is no location in the country, including the famous La Trinidad strawberry planting sties, that is viable for raising berries on a commercial scale. Sure, one can raise berries in pots or pans, but we are talking here about commercial-scale berry plantations.
You know what? Even coffee does not thrive in the low-lying areas of Pampanga. That is how important soil type is to raising crops on a commercial scale. Just a minor digression from the norm would lead to crop failure.
We have to take note of this, though. The planned investments on yellow corn production by the Canadian entities are viable. Offhand, you can see the promise of such ventures. Yellow corn can be raised anywhere in the country, from Isabela – the largest yellow-corn supplying province in Luzon – to the more ideal farm lands of Mindanao. Foreign investors can thrive by supplying a part of the domestic market alone. The price is not a problem. Farm gate prices are now between P13.50 to P14 per kilo.
But cranberries and blueberries? Excuse us.
We cannot fault Mr. Aquino for being swept away by the grandness and newness of the investment pledge – cranberry fields forever. And it came from Canada, which is a country known for fulfilling most of its social and economic commitments to the world. But a leader has to curb his enthusiasm on such things.
First, the country has been zoned agriculturally. You have a guide on which crops thrive in each of the country’s more than 7,000 islands. I think it was the late Rep. and former Agriculture Secretary Sonny Escudero who ordered the strict demarcation of the country’s agricultural zones. What to plant commercially is now based on science, not hype. Had Mr. Aquino consulted that map, he would have tempered his enthusiasm on the blueberry fields forever thing.
But then, who would help him curb his enthusiasm on things agricultural? The DA, over the past five years, has been a factory of dreams and wishful thinking.
One of the two DA secretaries, private contractor-turned congressman-turned cabinet member Procy Alcala has been a reckless prophet of agricultural boom. Year in and year out, Mang Procy has been predicting bumper rice harvests, which Mr. Aquino used to parrot as part of the “good news “ of daang matuwid. The problem is Procy is all humbug and hot air. Not only does production fall short of domestic demand every year. Over the past three years, rice imports have exceeded one million metric tons a year and Mr. Aquino will end his six-year term without any production breakthrough. And while the massive rice imports are public knowledge, there are other critical areas where imports are our lifelines.
Every year, the boosters of minions of Mang Procy from the private sector have been promising more-than-adequate yellow corn supply at tempered prices. They have been boasting of yellow corn exports. The farm gate is now between P13.50 to P14 per kilo because of acute supply gaps. Because yellow corn makes up 60 percent of feed ingredients, animal raisers have been suffering.
The truth is that while Mang Procy and his co-secretary, former Senator Francis Pangilinan, have been putting up brave fronts and issuing optimistic statements on the state of agricultural production, they have been utter laggards and failures.
What then is the real score on the planned blueberry and cranberry investments in the country? Treat them as one of Mang Procy’s many spiels on more-than-adequate rice production and supply. All hot air, without one kernel of reality.