Vegetable areas shrinking with banana plantation expansion, mining

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/13 August) —  Unabated banana plantation expansion and discoveries of new mining areas have shrunk the areas planted to vegetable, threatening stability of supply in the domestic markets, and the export of Mindanao vegetables to recently developed markets in the Visayas and southern Luzon.

Ray Acain, president of the Vegetable Industry Cluster of Southern Mindanao (Vicsmin), said the association and the Department of Agriculture need to update production areas that were already mapped in 2005 due to “changes in the crops that farmers have planted recently.”

Areas like Kapatagan, Davao del Sur and Maragusan inCompostela Valley, have reduced their usual volume of “semi-temperate”vegetables – such as  broccoli, cauliflowers and bell peppers –when farmers either opted or were forced to shift to banana, as in the case in Kapatagan, or when the menfolk left the farms to try their luck in a newly-discovered mining area, as what happened in Maragusan.

But it was mostly the shift to banana that threatened the traditional sources of vegetables, Acain said, citing the same trend in Bukidnon and Marilog, the northern agricultural district of this city.

The threats in areas like Tupi and Lake Sebu in South Cotabato were less severe, though still a cause for concern, “as these grow the tropical vegetables, or what we call the Bahay Kubo set of vegetables”.

Vegetable growers sort out vegetables into two distinct groups: the “Bahay Kubo” or “pinakbet” group, or the tropical climate vegetables, and the “chopsuey,” or temperate climate vegetables.

The more common and affordable vegetables like squash, eggplant, ampalaya, string beans and other leafy vegetables belong to the “Bahay Kubo” group.

The more expensive vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflowers, bell peppers and lettuce, belong to the “chopsuey” group.

Environmental concerns have been raised on the conversion of lands in Kapatagan from vegetables to bananas, as the town has been classified since two decades ago as a protected area, being part of Mt. Apo, a national park and wildlife reservation. Kapatagan is at the foothills of Mt. Apo.

The most susceptible to crop conversion were mostly farmers who have problem with access to markets.

“For growers of mostly semi-temperate climate vegetables, the shift to banana was less tempting because these farmers already  have institutional buyers, like shopping malls and hotels,” Acain said.

“For instance, we have these farmers in the Malaybalay, Bukidnon side of Mt.Kitanglad, whose lettuce and broccoli are already pegged to the demand of hotels and shopping malls in Cagayan de Oro City, and to a high-end hotel in Davao City.”

“But there would be a realignment of the vegetable map in Mindanao,” he said, “especially that until now, there are still a lot of vegetable farmers who are not listed in our roster”.

Val Tutor, the vice president of Vicsmin, said they would be seeking fresh funding to undertake another round of survey to locate other production areas.

“The lukewarm or inattention of many local governments to look into the situation of vegetable growers also limited our efforts,” he said. (MindaNews)