LA TRINIDAD, Benguet – The 250,000-strong farmers and local officials of the province are grateful to President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III and Agriculture Secretary Proceso J. Alcala for the realization of a state-of-the-art trading center that would encompass the processing, packaging, and marketing of semi-temperate vegetables in order for locally-produced crops to compete in the global market with the implementation of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Free Trade.
John Sagpa-ey, chairman of the Benguet Farmers Marketing Cooperative (BFMC) said that for decades now, vegetable farmers have been disorganized in the marketing of their produce coupled with the absence of appropriate packaging and processing facilities that would provide a value added for their produce, thus, their inability to be able to directly compete in the global market.
Sagpa-ey represented the farmers’ group in Tuesday’s signing of the memorandum of agreement (MOA) for the upcoming operation of the Benguet Agri Pinoy Trading Center (BAPTC) with Agriculture Undersecretary Emmerson Palad, Rep. Ronald M. Cosalan, Gov. Nestor B. Fongwan, Mayor Edna C. Tabanda and Dr. Ben Ladilad representing the Benguet State University (BSU).
“It is now time for us farmers to unite and embrace change as well as go with the changing times for us to be able to produce goods that could compete in the global market,” Sagpa-ey stressed.
Undersecretary Palad cited that being the producer of around 80 percent of the country’s demand for highland vegetables, the target of farmers now should be on how to supply the global market with equally high quality crops that would contribute in improving the living condition of farmers in the countryside.
He said Benguet will be a force to reckon with once its stakeholders will be able to maximize the utilization of the available post-harvest facilities in order to provide added value to the agricultural crops produced in the different parts of the province.
In order to improve the access to the facility, Rep. Cosalan disclosed the public works department already bidded out the P40(million?) earlier earmarked by the agency in order to construct the access road from the Halsema Highway up to the site of the new trading center within the Strawberry Farm along Km. 6 here.
Cosalan cited that aside from improving the access roads to the facility, infrastructure development all over the province is important, thus, the billions of funds allocated to improve the national roads linking Benguet with other provinces in the Cordillera.
“With better infrastructure, farmers will surely be experiencing lower maintenance cost of their vehicles, lower transportation cost because of reduced travel time from the farms to the market, and bigger take home income that will improve their living condition,” Cosalan stressed.
Gov. Nestor Fongwan said the operation of the Agri Pinoy Trading Center by March will be a major breakthrough in the province’s history of the local vegetable industry, saying that the added features of the facility, particularly the new post-harvest facilities will provide opportunities for locally-raised vegetables to invade the international market.
“Let us continuously work together in trying to uplift the state of the province’s local industry for us to regain whatever we lost in the midst of development and the traditional way of raising our crops,” Fongwan said.
The governor added the province will remain committed to fulfil its prescribed obligations under the agreement in order to empower the farmers to patronize its operation and avail of value added opportunities for their produce.
Mayor Tabanda cited the agreement is just to start the ball rolling for the operation of the facility and that it will still be open to amendments and adjustments once the stakeholders are able to see certain defects on how the agreement is executed by the parties.
“We will continue to consult with the concerned stakeholders in order to gather appropriate inputs which will be necessary in improving the operation of the facility,” Tabanda said.
Tabanda added the Agri Pinoy Trading Center will help decongest the existing trading post and would also help address certain problems that were created by overcrowding in the old trading post such as traffic jams and worsening peace and order among others.
Ladilad said BSU’s donation of over 5.5 hectares within the state-run institution’s huge land area will provide an opportunity for farmers to improve the quality of their produce and inject added value to their crops for their produce to gain sufficient access to the international markets.
“We will provide appropriate guidance to the management of the facility in order to continuously improve its operations for the greater benefit of the vegetable farmers who rely on the facility for sustained income and better living,” Ladilad said.
The BSU president cited the institution’s array of researches will definitely serve as one of the major references for management on how to continue updating its business and operational plans for the benefit of the farmers.
Aside from processing, packaging, and marketing of the over 500,000 metric tons of vegetables annually, the Agri Pinoy will also serve as a training center for farmers on how to adopt good agricultural practices as part of the means to improve the quality of their produce and uplift the state of the P5 billion vegetable industry.