Developing the local garlic industry

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DR. WILLIAM DAR

Among the many crops grown in the Philippines, I believe garlic is among those that are “neglected” when it comes to funds invested for research, development and extension (RDE), and marketing support.
Is this because it is cheaper to import garlic and smuggling of the crop is still rampant?

Surprisingly garlic farming remains a profitable venture. According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), the net profit-cost ratio for garlic farming was 1.86 in 2015, which, however, was lower than the 2.81 for 2014.

The Philippines still remains dependent on imports for its domestic garlic needs. PSA statistics show that in 2015, the country’s self-sufficiency ratio (SSR) for garlic was about 12 percent, which meant we had an import dependency ratio (IDR) of 88 percent for the crop.

It was in 2013 that garlic SSR hit a high of about 71 percent, but that plunged to about 23 percent in 2014. Try to Google “garlic smuggling + 2014” and you will partly get the answer as to why our SSR in garlic dropped to about 23 percent in 2014. In both years, the country’s garlic production was about 9,000 metric tons (MT), and even increased to about 11,000 MT in 2015. In 2016, garlic production was pegged at about 7,500 MT, according to the PSA.

Using the Supply Utilization Accounts method, the 2009-2016 average production level of 9,255 MT was enough to meet only 14 percent of local demand for garlic estimated at 64,800 MT annually. Using the alternative Survey of Feed Demand method, the PSA said the shortfall increase to 7 percent based on a higher demand of 128,000 MT per year.

While smuggling can be partly blamed for the low self-sufficiency in garlic, the bigger problem is the lack of support for smallholder farmers of the crop. And as an advocate of science-based solutions for farming, we should really ramp up RDE for garlic. The overall objective is to make the price of locally-produced garlic competitive compared to imported stocks, which also could result in better earnings for smallholder farmers of the crop.

So again, I will ask my favorite question—what must be done?

Since garlic is quite “choosy” when it comes to soil type, among the best solutions is to put into place a cluster approach for the adoption and commercialization of an enhanced garlic production system, which should be done through cooperatives.

Then the government must provide support covering credit and technical provision, market linkage, capacity building of farmers and change agents, tapping information and technology, value-adding and training on agripreneurship.

While a national program for garlic can be conceptualized and implemented, the development interventions must emphasize the community-based approach.

The cluster-based approach should take advantage of areas where garlic yields are at its highest. According to my colleague Dr. Emil Q. Javier, the chairman of the Coalition for Agriculture Modernization in the Philippines, there are farms in Occidental Mindoro where reported garlic yields reach 6.32 tons/hectare.

Also, the use of virus-free planting materials combined with intensive cultural management could generate average yields of 5 tons/hectare in the Ilocos region.

I have stated in most of my past columns the need to improve varieties of crops to increase yields and the same should apply to garlic. To date, the Mariano Marcos State University and University of the Philippines-Los Banos have the capacity to produce virus-free clones of garlic. But there should be long-term efforts to develop better-yielding varieties and improve the current ones, including the still popular small Ilocos garlic.

Currently, the provinces of Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, Batanes, Nueva Vizcaya, Nueva Ecija, Batangas and Occidental Mindoro grow garlic and this is where government programs for the crop should initially focus on.

Persuading farmers in other provinces and regions to plant garlic would post a big challenge, but expect more farmers to plant the crop once they see it is more profitable compared to rice and even corn.

The Ilocos region still leads in garlic production with 4,487 MT from 2,014 hectares in 2016, followed by Mimaropa (Region 4B) with 1,818 MT from 292 hectares, Cagayan Valley 637 MT from 149 hectares, and Central Luzon 344 MT from 118 hectares.

The other regions where growing of the crop can be expanded are Calabarzon (Region 4A) with 88 MT from 46 hectares in 2016, Western Visayas 79 MT from 20 hectares, Cordillera 10 MT from six hectares, and Eastern Visayas 3.8 MT from two hectares.

One of the objectives in increasing garlic production in current farms is to bring down costs to be competitive with the P20 per kilo landed cost of imported stocks, which I believe is a tall order.

PSA statistics show the average farm gate price of garlic is still very high: P81.99 in 2010; P108.47 in 2011; P79.67 in 2012; P70.40 in 2013; P152.42 in 2014; and P81.48 in 2015.

Since garlic’s price is largely seasonal, farmers can also be at the mercy of traders/importers. To help address that issue, the Department of Agriculture-Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (PhilMech) can develop storage technologies for garlic so farmers can hold on to their stocks and wait for domestic prices of the crop to improve.

The warrantage system, which I discussed extensively in my past columns, can also be considered so farmers can have funds for capital and household expenses while waiting for prices of garlic to improve. Under the warrantage system, a farmer can advance cash from a cooperative using as collateral the crops he stored in the cooperative’s warehouses. The loan is paid by the farmer after his crops are sold at a higher price.

Much really needs to be done for the smallholder garlic farmer to become competitive in the local market vis-à-vis imports that usually come from China, which is the top producer in the world with 20 million MT annually, according to World Atlas.

The tack for the Philippine garlic industry is not to pursue import substitution; what should be done is improve yields and profitability of current farms, and develop better yielding varieties over the long term.

Also, improving farm practices so locally-produced garlic can have minimum residue of chemicals, and developing better tasting varieties will greatly help. On the latter, I still prefer the small but expensive “white gold” garlic from Ilocos that my wife uses in cooking my favorite Ilocano dishes!

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