BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES
On average, Filipinos eat less than 25% of the World Health Organization’s recommended intake of vegetables. Reasons include availability, affordability, cultural and dietary factors, and the negative perception of vegetable quality and safety.
It is common to find pesticide residues and microbial contamination above permissible limits in vegetables, soil, and water in the Philippines. Vegetable farmers are poorly trained in the appropriate application of pesticides and continue to use unsafe pest control practices involving broad-spectrum and persistent insecticides. This leads to excessive pesticide residues on harvested crops and exposes farm workers to pesticide poisoning. Aware of these issues, consumers are increasingly interested in purchasing vegetables that are certified safe to eat.
The Government of the Philippines has promoted the use of a national Good Agricultural Practice standards, called PhilGAP. This certification program outlines on-farm and postharvest practices required to produce vegetables that are safe to eat, of good quality,
and produced with consideration of worker health and safety and the environment. However, the uptake of PhilGAP by farmers
has been slow.
A scaled Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) system, easily implemented by farmers, could be a better solution. If linked with the
right markets and supplied with certified safe-to-eat produce, this system could attract a premium price for high quality vegetables.
The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, Applied Horticultural Research, and Visayas State University in
the Philippines are developing six pilot value chains in the Southern Philippines to supply safe-to-eat vegetables to higher value
The following components support the value chains:
Stepped GAP training and farmer assistance
A new approach to PhilGAP training breaks the full certification into four steps, which cover PhilGAP accreditation, crop management, business management, and compliance. The training addresses barriers to implementation by starting with easily
implementable practices that have benefits for farmers and those which the market is most interested in (e.g. food safety and quality).
Farmers are provided with follow-up support to help adopt the practices on their farms.
Food safety research
Microbial contamination and pesticide residues are tested on farms and in supply chains. Interventions are trialed to helpreduce and manage these risks, such as the potential for persistence of human pathogens from animal manures and irrigation
Market and consumer studies are undertaken to identify opportunities for GAP-certified produce, as well as new vegetable crops
and varieties. Farmers are linked to new markets through market matching forums with the buyers, and support is provided to establish the value chain.
Agronomy trials are used to test the production of new high-value vegetable crops and varieties and resolve production issues that
arise in the pilot value chains.
Communication with government
Research results are shared with key players in the policy arena to integrate findings with the Government of the Philippines’ Phil-
GAP training program.
The project has identified a pathway for the sustainable adoption of PhilGAP-compliant vegetable production in the Philippines. Vegetable farmers are now producing safe-to-eat vegetables and receiving price premiums and opportunities to link to higher value markets.
Social: PhilGAP requires farmers to use pesticides safely and use an integrated approach to pest management, ultimately reducing farmer exposure to potentially harmful pesticides. The project is improving the supply of safe-to-eat vegetables, which will benefit consumer health. Capacity-building of researchers, trainers, and farmers in the Philippines provides an ongoing source of skills and knowledge related to GAP. Wherever possible, the involvement of women and youth is supported in the project, and many of the pilot farmers are female.
Environmental: One of the four pillars of the PhilGAP standard is environmental management. Farmers are required to adopt practices for improved soil management and conservation, sustainable use of fertilizers, efficient use of water, improved waste management, and energy efficiency.
Economic: Pilot farmers have achieved a 48% price premium on average compared to traditional markets for PhilGAP-produced vegetables. An emerging onion industry was identified through the project, and is now commercial in tropical lowland areas, where onions are not typically grown. The PhilGAP standard requires farmers to maintain good production records, which are now used by farmers to evaluate profitability of crops and make better financial decisions.
SUCCESSES AND LESSONS LEARNED
Six pilot value chains have been established in Leyte and Mindanao, Philippines. Many of the 130 farmers involved are now earning 48% higher prices on average compared to traditional markets and are maintaining sustained linkages to markets, including supermarkets, concessionaires, hospitals, fast food chains, and public market stalls. The farmers are increasing their supply of high-quality vegetables produced with PhilGAP protocols.
Some of the key lessons learned are that farmers need to see financial incentives to encourage changed behaviors in technology use, and that farmers often learn best from other farmers. Working with lead farmers who are willing to adopt new practices and investigate new markets has been useful in demonstrating to other farmers the benefits of adopting PhilGAP protocols.
The stepped approach to PhilGAP training has successfully encouraged the adoption of practices required to produce vegetables that are safe to eat, of good quality, and produced with consideration of worker health and safety and the environment.
The Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Training Institute is working towards using the stepped approach in some of their PhilGAP training programs.