Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Organic farmers eye Korean market in Cebu

Organic farmers eye Korean market in Cebu
By Aileen Garcia-Yap
Cebu Daily News – Enterprise
July 13, 2010

Organic farmers in Cebu City's hillylands plan to tap the growing market of Koreans in Cebu who number almost 50,000.

While local farmers look for ways to do this, they need the help of market operators and the government for linkages and farm equipment.

“We know that there are many Koreans here and most of them eat vegetables. We just need help, said farmer Aladin Pagatpat of barangay Sudlon, in Cebuano.

For now, the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP), a corporate-led foundation, is teaching barangay farmers how to use natural fertilizers.

“But we also need help in selling our produce straight to the Koreans,” said Pagatpat, one of the farmer beneficiaries of PBSP.

The group known as Sufaltas or Sudlon Farmers Livelihood Training and Services Foundation, are in charge of 600 hectares of land and produce organically grown egglants, tomatoes and chili.

Pagatpat uses natural methods of fertilizing his one-hectare farm, like vermicast or worm waste.

Member farmers avoid using synthetic or chemical fertilizers and genetically modified organisms to influence the growth of crops.

However, their produce is “70 per cent organic” and not 100 per cent because some vegetables like lettuce still use inorganic fertilizers such as potassium fertilizers right before harvest to prevent pest attacks.

Vermicast - the waste of nightcrawler worms tended in the farm - is usually applied during the early stages of growth.

Farmers also scatter reject vegetables like tomatoes on the ground to provide additional nutrients to the soil.
The group is tapping the Korean Association of Groceries in Cebu which sells vegetables important to kimchi-loving Koreans like radish and Chinese pechay.

Aside from the Koreans, Pagatpat said farmers see a potential large demand for organic produce from establishments like hotels and restaurants in Cebu.

“There is a big demand but we haven’t really sat down to discuss this with them,” Pagatpat said.

He said farmers hope the new Agriculture Secretary would give attention to farmers like them who need three things from the new administration: assistance in farm equipment, capital support and market access.

“We need the farm equipment to help us handle our produce. If they can arrange to let us loan the equipment, similar to how it was done in the cold storage project, that would be good. Most of us don't have any capital. We hope the government can give us access to loans,” he said.

For market access, he suggested a similar setup as the Kumprahan Supermerkado in Mandaue City where farmers can sell their produce directly in a well-planned market without have to to deal with middlemen.

This empowers farmers to have control over how they price their produce.

Nonencio Arcayan of Batallion Irrigators, a farmers group in barangay Tabunan, said infrastructure support is also needed like roads to ease delivery of the farm products.

Jon Ramos, chief organizer of Kumprahan Supermerkado, told Pagatpat that he is leaving for Manila soon because Department of Agriculture executives want to talk to him about the business model of the Kumprahan Supermerkado.

“They want this concept to be duplicated in other areas. I think they're already seeing this as a way to help farmers like you,” Ramos said.