Three growers’ associations in Northern, Southern and Central Mindanao have reported a 75-percent increase from 2007 to 2009 in shipments of vegetables to Cebu and other markets in Visayas and Luzon with the Northern Mindanao Vegetable Producers Association (NorMinVeggies), with a membership base of more than 7,000 growers, reporting the largest shipment of more than 70 MT of assorted vegetables weekly to Luzon and Visayas buyers.

NorMinVeggies has vegetable production areas total more than 3,000 hectares in Misamis Oriental and Bukidnon.

The annual aggregate vegetable out-shipment by Mindanao growers to the two regions totals approximately 4,730 metric tons (MT) annually, or about 90 MT weekly; a significant increase from the annual shipment of 2,700 MT in 2007, according to reports compiled by USAID’s Growth with Equity in Mindanao (GEM) Program.

Through NorMinVeggies Vegetable Consolidation Center alone, the group ships at least 5 MT of assorted semi-temperate vegetables per week to key Cebu-based institutional buyers, including Metro Gaisano supermarket, consolidators for fast food chains KFC and Jollibee, and hotel and restaurant distributors.

“Buyers like these require large volumes of consistently high quality vegetables, and growers here have proven that they can deliver,” said Marcelino Remotigue, NorMinVeggies president, and also a strong advocate for the “commodity clustering approach,” in which groups of farmers focus on a specific commodity and time their harvests to coincide with shipment schedules agreed by buyers and growers.

“We expected about 500 participants, but about 700 to 800 attended, with 11 regions represented,” Santos said. “They visited our farms and could see we are practically at par with growers in Luzon in terms of quality and sustainability. It was a good marketing opportunity.”

“Mindanao has big tracts of land, including large upland areas well-suited for growing semi-temperate vegetables,” Remotigue added.

“Mindanao’s great advantage is that it is typhoon-free,” said Ray Acain, president of VICSMIN. “This allows growers to engage in production all year round and ensure regular shipments.”

Acain also heads a VICSMIN affiliate, the 200-member Davao del Norte Vegetable Industry Development Council (DNVIDC), which weekly ships at least 10 MT of chayote and “pinakbet vegetables”—squash, eggplant, okra, bitter gourd and others—to Leyte province, which lies within the Visayas typhoon belt.

“Leyte has its own growers, but they can only produce during certain months,” said Acain.

His group established a supply agreement with a Leyte wholesaler last year when it conducted its first market exploration tour of the province, with support from GEM, which works with the Department of Agriculture and other partners to strengthen the vegetable sector. The GEM Program is being implemented under the oversight of the Mindanao Economic Development Council.

Santos said that in the wake of the last two “super typhoons,” the Department of Agriculture called on Mindanao growers to help stabilize the supply of vegetables in major demand centers in the country.

Seizing the opportunity, CEMVIDEC has shipped approximately 64 MT of assorted vegetables from Mindanao to Luzon from October to mid-November this year, Santos said.

Even newer groups such as the Zamboanga del Norte Hi-Green Farmers Association (ZaNorte) and the Caraga Vegetable Growers Association (CaraVeggies), are expanding their vegetable production for the Visayas market. ZaNorte is now shipping at least 3 MT of tropical vegetables to Cebu weekly.

Vegetable producers are also supplying larger-scale food manufacturers such as tuna canners based in General Santos City, that require huge volumes of sweet pepper, carrots and other vegetable ingredients for their products.

Growers say there still are industry hurdles which have to be overcome by Mindanao’s vegetable sector. “We need more farm-to-market roads, better access to financing for growers, and we have to step up marketing,” said Remotigue.

Acain noted that growers must keep pace with new [production and post-harvest] technologies through training. But, he added: “The demand is there, and more growers are waiting to join the industry. There’s definitely room for expansion in Mindanao.” GEM

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