PCCI eyes USD 100-M Japan market for ‘okra’

PCCI eyes USD 100-M Japan market for ‘okra’

MANILA — The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industries (PCCI) is teaming up with the Institute of Plant Breeding (IPB) on a technical assistance (TA) program that may include breeding of okra that has a projected US$ 100 million Japan market.

The planned breeding of high value crops — particularly okra and soybean vegetable “Edamame” for the Japan market — may be the top priority of the IPB-PCCI partnership, according to PCCI Agriculture Committee Chief Roberto C. Amores.

An initial discussion on the TA was conducted last June 2 at the IPB-University of the Philippines Los Banos.

“For me, the breeding of okra and soybean for the Japan market should be a priority for this partnership with IPB,” said Amores in a statement.

“Genetic improvement in our fresh vegetables for Japan will be the key to increasing productivity of farmers,” he added.

PCCI and Filipino agribusiness exporting firm Hi Las Marketing Corp., which Amores heads, may look for funding for the research.

This is inasmuch as how IPB’s research on the disease resistant Bt eggplant was financed through a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) grant and a counterpart fund from UPLB and Department of Agriculture (DA).

The PCCI-IPB program will also involve a comprehensive collaboration resulting in easier, faster access of small farmers to financing; marketing of farmers’ produce direct to markets including hotels and restaurants; and development of contract growing business models.

“PCCI knows how important agriculture is. We want to have a national consultation for agriculture. We’re pushing for government’s financing of agriculture especially for the small ones,” said PCCI President George T. Barcelon.

“For infrastructure, there should be irrigation, power facilities, and roads. There should be information on prices of agricultural supplies like fertilizers,” he said.

IPB Co-Founder Dr. Emil Q. Javier said IPB’s collaboration with PCCI must zero in on enabling farmers to be part of the value chain.

Filipino farmers do not just become suppliers of cheap raw materials to big manufacturers or retailers. They become partners of agri-businesses, he said.

Glenn N. Baticados, UPLB Technology Transfer director, said IPB-UPLB may also partner with the private sector through commercialization of its technologies.

“Jollibee is interested in getting 11 technologies that we developed,” said Baticados.

PCCI will also have a scholarship for agriculture families. It will introduce a mentoring program for farmers to become entrepreneurs rather than just stay as recipients of dole-outs, according to Barcelon.

Breeding will raise by leaps and bounds productivity of small farmers planting okra who are currently using imported hybrid seeds from Japan. This okra should be disease-resistant and should have longer shelf life to be competitive.

“With the breeding program of IPB, cost of seeds will be reduced for okra and soybeans,” said Amores. “We will create more jobs using these varieties.”

For the Edamame soybean, a preparation of boiled or steamed soybeans in the pod in Japanese cuisine, the breed is to be developed with deeper green color and bigger pods compared to what can be grown in the Philippines.

Okra for Japan at present has a USD 15 million market. It will grow to USD 100 million in five years, according to projections. Okra is used mainly as a snack but also used in salads, soups, stir fry, or stews.

Edamame soybean’s market is expanding too. Market in the US alone was placed at up to USD 200 million by American Vegetable Soybean & Edamame Inc.

“Edamame’s popularity appears to be growing. Edamame is found mostly in health food stores, or stores that specialize in Asian products. Edamame is consumed green. Its beans are larger than traditional soybean varieties. Some believe that the demand for Edamame will increase due to the health benefits from eating the product,” according to an earlier Michigan State University study.

Breeding will be the key to Philippines’ becoming competitive with other exporters of okra and soybean to Japan — Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and China.

Breeding will enable protein-rich Edamame soybean, normally grown in temperate climates, to be planted under warmer specific climatic conditions in the Philippines.

“The seeds that we need are those that may be exposed to sunlight for maybe just 2.5 hours and yet achieve the same quality, receive the same photosynthetic effect, as those exposed to the sun over four hours,” said Amores.

IPB and PCCI will also look into successful models of contract growing with small farmers.

Contract growing enables small farmers to keep up with international safety standards of agriculture and food production imposed on big food companies.

When small farmers’ production are consolidated through cooperatives that may have a partnership with PCCI, they will be able to haggle for higher, market-based prices for their produce.

Small farmers stand at the mercy of big traders when they sell individually.

The academe will become an important partner of industries if its expertise is tapped by the private sector.

“We understand science. We have the experts in food science, animal science, post harvest… but we need to know what should be done. We are clueless on where to go. Would PCCI willing to partner with us?” said Javier. Lilybeth Ison/PNA/northboundasia.com