SUSTAINED SUPPLY. Assorted vegetables at a vegetable trading center in La Trinidad, Benguet. The provincial government of Benguet is in the process of crafting the provincial agriculture code that aims to address repeated complaints about loss of income and capital, and sustain the local vegetable industry. (PNA file photo by Liza T. Agoot)

BAGUIO CITY – Benguet’s provincial government said it sees crop programming as a possible solution to the persistent problem of the drop in the prices of vegetables, which leads to losses among the farmers.

"We can do crop programming by cluster or we could start first with cabbage and Chinese cabbage because of their high perishability," Ruben Paoad, chairperson of the provincial board's committee on agriculture said in a phone interview Tuesday.

Paoad said the committee, together with Benguet’s Provincial Agriculture Office and the Department of Agriculture (DA), is consulting northern municipalities that produce large amounts of highland vegetables, as well as farmers and farmers' cooperatives to get inputs and answer queries.

Benguet produces about 80 percent of the average 2 million kg. daily production of assorted highland vegetables in the Cordillera region.

An average daily outflow of 1.8 million kg. is traded outside the region for the country’s highland vegetable requirements.

Paoad said the dialogues are part of the public consultation for the crafting of the Benguet Agriculture Code, which aims to address the repeated complaints about the oversupply of vegetables, and the unsold and rotting agricultural produce that cause income and capital losses to farmers.

"We have to start somewhere, simple, doable, and acceptable to the majority," he said.

Paoad, however, said losses are not always the case as there are also instances when farmers either break even or make profits.

"The end goal is to find a balance that will supply the market throughout the year without compromising the price or the farmer's income," he said.

He noted that the season for events and gatherings, supply, and calamities contribute to unpredictability in the prices of vegetables.

"We hope to do away with the risk or taking chances or what farmers term as ‘chamba’ system, or the hit-or-miss phenomenon that the farmers deal with, which happens when the majority of farmers plant the same crop at the same time," he added.

Dr. Aida Pagtan, regional agriculture and fisheries information service chief of the DA, in a separate phone interview, said the Agricultural Code aims to uplift the industry.

Pagtan said during the community consultation in Atok, Benguet last week, farmers shared their experiences, ideas, and suggestions to improve vegetable marketing and stabilize the prices of highland vegetables.

"The same concerns, issues, and ideas were also raised in the other consultations in the municipalities of Buguias, Mankayan, Kabayan, Kibungan, and Bakun," she said in Ilocano.

During the consultation, farmers said their decision on what type of crop to plant and when to plant depends on the presence of an irrigation system as most of them rely on rain for irrigation; plant diseases; and elevation.

Data from 2017 to 2022 presented during the consultation showed that prices do not necessarily drop when the supply is abundant.

Pagtan also said the DA continues to help farmers market their produce through the Kadiwa program; logistics and transportation support for accredited farmer's cooperatives and associations; and the provision of seed funds and trading equipment.

The Atok farmers' assembly is the final leg of the first phase of crop programming consultations in the province’s vegetable-producing municipalities.

The draft of the Benguet Agricultural Code will be presented to farmers in the second round of consultations scheduled in 2023. (PNA)