The Department of Agriculture (DA) and Gokongwei-led Universal Robina Corp. (URC) have joined hands toward the sustainable production of good-quality potatoes in the Philippines to enhance the competitiveness of the local potato industry.
Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol, URC President and CEO Irwin Lee, and URC Chairman Lance Gokongwei on Thursday signed the contract for the “Sustainable Potato Program” which aims to support the country’s Potato Industry Roadmap to make the local produce competitive against neighboring countries in the Asian region.
Under the partnership, the URC has donated P5-million worth of 135,000 metric tons (MT) of good quality potato seeds which will be used for four production cycles or two crop years.
When planted, the seeds will cover a total land area of 62 hectares and are projected to produce 2,700 MT or 2,700,000 kilograms of potatoes on the first cycle. After the four cycles, the total generated potatoes could reach 337,500 MT.
During the event, Piñol admitted that in the past years, Filipino farmers have been suffering from lack of good quality seeds which can bolster local harvest.
“We have been telling our farmers to plant more but the government is not giving them right planting seeds. How can we compete then against our neighbors [in Asian region]?” he pointed out.
“This is one thing we should really change–our planting materials–because right now, our problem in our agriculture in the Philippines is that the farmers are asking for a higher price for their produce. In potatoes, if we have bountiful production, we don’t care so much about the price,”Piñol explained.
The agriculture chief said the URC’s donation is “historic” as this is the first time that a big corporation has provided support to local potato farmers.
“What URC did should serves as a model to other companies to also focus on their social responsibilities as private corporations to help our agriculture,” Piñol said.
The 135,000 MT of potato seeds will be turned-over to the DA beginning January next year, according to Gokongwei.
He said the three-fold program will have the URC to source the best possible potato seeds. The DA through the Bureau of Plant and Industry (BPI) and various departments will provide the technical support to potato cooperatives and the farmers to propagate the seeds.
“Our job, as a food company, is to support President Duterte’s objectives of assuring food security while at the same time ensuring fair prices for both consumers as well as producers,” Gokongwei said.
“So hopefully, we will be able to provide the end-result to the Filipino consumers with a higher quantities of high quality table potatoes,” he added.
Meanwhile, Rogelio Gualberto of the Vegetable Industry Council of Southern Mindanao, emphasized that with the 135,000 MT of potato seeds, the farmers will still be able to propagate seeds to be used in the next planting.
“If we produce, 1,365 tons, take out 25 percent of that and it will become your seeds. Then, if you harvest after 90 days [and] wait until 4 to 5 months to sprout before you can plant. After eight months, we can already plant again, for the second cropping,” he said.
The country’s annual potato production is 118,000 MT with Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), Davao, and Northern Mindanao as major contributors to the total output. Meanwhile, the consumption is at 370,000 MT, more than half of the volume the farmers can produce.
This is not the first time that the DA have worked “very closely” with URC, according to Piñol. In December 2016, when the prices of onion dropped, the URC is one of the private firms who helped the farmers, he noted.
Piñol has also challenged the URC to venture into the production of good quality rice for their supermarkets and come up to a marketing agreement for a steady market for the rice farmers.
“I also challenge the URC to take a look at strawberry production because there are great market right now,” he added.