Benguet’s strawberry farmers look for other crops
LA TRINIDAD, Benguet, Philippines — A drastic slump in tourism activities due to the ongoing community quarantine has forced strawberry farmers here to shift to other crops after struggling to sell their harvest in the local market or even online.
About 50 percent or 460 metric tons of strawberry from a recent harvest season were spoiled because of lack of buyers and the restricted movement of people and goods, said Felly Ticbaen, municipal agriculture officer.
Selling strawberries at lower prices also failed to help farmers earn a decent income in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, Ticbaen said.
She said 30 percent of 825 strawberry farmers had started planting high-value commercial crops like lettuce to recoup their losses.
Known as the “strawberry capital of the country,” this Benguet capital produces an average of 1,175 MT of strawberry annually from more than 50 hectares of its agricultural land.
According to Ticbaen, profits of those engaged in strawberry jam production have also been down due to the shortage of sugar supply.
“We tried to help buy more sugar but the COVID-19 situation made it really difficult [to get a steady supply],” she told the Inquirer.
Peter Bulangen, a farmer at the La Trinidad strawberry farm, said they had been relying on tourists to sell the bulk of their harvests before the pandemic in March.
The farm is among the favorite tourist destinations here where visitors are allowed to pick ripe strawberries.
Bulangen said growing strawberries starts in October while harvest begins in December until May.
As an alternative income, he said they now plant lettuce and cash crops that are resilient to rain. Major crowd-drawing events, such as the Baguio Flower Festival in February and the La Trinidad Strawberry Festival in March, had been boosting their sales but these had been canceled due to the health crisis, he said.
Before the quarantine was imposed, Bulangen said they could sell the strawberries at P80-P100 a kilogram during the harvest season. “But even at P50-P60 a kg, which is a farm gate’s price, we could hardly sell our harvest now,” he said.
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