Saturday, September 15, 2007

Lessons about strawberries

A story of perseverance in the mountains

Strawberries do not grow on trees but on the ground. This is what I learned when I visited barangay Baganihan in Marilog District a few days ago to take a look at this fruit that Mindanaoans consider as a novelty whose price is way above the range of most pockets.
But it won't be long before this fruit most of us tag as "dollars" (expensive) will be sold at wallet-friendly prices after the city government showed intertest to support its cultivation and production.
The promise of a profitable income from strawberry cultivation enticed farmers in Marilog to shift from vegetable farming but the road is not paved with roses for them.
Baganihan kagawad Bilma M. Fuertes, chairman of the Baganihan Agri-Eco Ventures Cooperative (BAVC) formerly the Maharlika Multi-Purpose Cooperative (MMPC) at Sitio Epol, Barangay Baganihan said that they went through hard times experimenting with the strawberry cultivation.
"Many vegetable farmers turned to strawberry cultivation and after our first harvest, we were very elated for strawberries sold at P250 per kilo. Alas, the strawberry plants refused to yield anymore fruits. We were discouraged," Fuertes said.
Seeing the needs of the farmers, Strategic Development Cooperation Asia (SDCA), a foreign funded non-government organization consulted three experts to assess the strawberry potentials in Epol in 2003.
SDCAsia program adviser Ivan Idrobo with the Davao Project team provided the strawberry farmers with the necesary technical knowledge to cultivate and process strawberries.
Edwin Balaki, Dole executive conducted the initial assessment.
"In Epol, the yield is only 1.3 tons/hectare, way below average of 10 tons/hectare in Benguet," Balaki said. He added that both places showed similarities in weather, elevation, soil type and other factors that is conducive to strawberry cultivation.
Farmers underwent a series of lectures which gave them helpful tips which included studying diferent types and climactic requirements of strawberry plants. They were also taught the basics of land preparation, runner segregation, establishment of nurseries, proper way of picking, transplanting and planting, fertilization and irrigation, mulching, pruning and disease and insect control, proper harvest and post-harvest practices, farm record management.
After the SDCAsia intervention, the farmers realized that their poor harvest was due to not following right techniques in strawberry cultivation.
"Strawberries are very sensitive plants. They have to be cared for and pampered like a baby everyday," SDCAsia team member Manny Quisol said.
"By building the community's image and ensuring that everybody produces good quality products, they improve their competitiveness and increase individual earning potentials," Marian Boquiren, SDCAsia program manager said.
SDCAsia also saw to the needs of the farmers after harvesting. SDCAsia food technologist Chin Nobleza taught them the right processing of the strawberries to jams, marmalade and syrup.
They were made to undergo training on Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) where they were made to observe the right procedures in strawberry processing, like working in a clean environment, sanitation, use of gloves and hairnets, sterilization, and others.
"The trainings made a great difference for us from the planting time up to processing," Fuertes said.
Fuertes said that they are fast gaining popularity after they joined trade fairs and motorists plying Davao-Bukidnon route now make it a habit to stop to buy strawberry jam, marmalade or syrup, or fresh strawberries.
To date, BAVC has only 34 members but the recruitment for membership is ongoing in order to come up with a sufficient supply of strawberries and make it competitive in the market.
"We require members to maintain at least 500 hills (plants) of strawberries, undergo seminars on Good Manufacturing Processes, processing and production seminar, and deliver at least 30% of harvest to cooperative per harvest," Fuertes said.
Jun Salvaceon, one of the strawberry cultivators started with 100 hills (plants). He planted more and reached 2,500 hills which yielded a harvest three kilograms every other day only.
"After the SDCAsia trainings, I was able to harvest six to seven kilograms every harvest, which is every other day," Salvaceon said.
Truly, proper trainings and knowhow and a lot of perseverance can spell the difference between success and failure.
For orders, runners for strawberry propagation, or for a taste of fresh strawberries, drop by Foggy Mountain Garden at Epol, Baganihan in Marilog, or contact Kagawad Bilma Fuertes through cell number 0919-536-2048 and 0926-841-1293.

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