Close-up of an iceberg lettuce field in Northe...Good news for farmers in highland Benguet and Quezon provinces.

The Department of Agriculture is linking vegetable farmers in the provinces of Benguet and Quezon with prospective buyers from Singapore.

Agriculture Secretary Proceso J. Alcala said a three-man Singaporean team recently visited the provinces of Quezon and Benguet to see for themselves the various vegetables that their fellow Singaporeans prefer.

“Their visit is a signal that Filipino farmers are now ready to export their quality, organically-grown vegetables to Singapore, Japan and other neighboring countries,” said Sec. Alcala.

The Singaporean team is composed of Dr. Michael Lau, CEO of Green and Fresh Pte. Ltd., and its directors Ong Hock Beng and Ang Yong Beng. They arrived September 9 and proceeded to Quezon, where they toured several organic vegetables farms. On September 11, they motored to Benguet and visited vegetable farms in the towns of Mankayan, Buguias, and Madaymen.

They were accompanied by Filipino entrepreneur Agripino Ferrer, Jr., and Singaporean Max Teo Chin Huat, project leader of the Philippine-Singapore vegetable mission.

Sec. Alcala said the group took interest in semi-temperate Chinese-type vegetables that are widely grown in Quezon and Benguet that include bell pepper, tomatoes, cabbage, pechay, several types of lettuce, and coriander. They are also interested to import fresh banana leaves as plate liner.

The Singaporeans brought with them seeds of vegetables preferred in Singapore and see if these would adapt well for propagation in various parts of the Philippines.

Sec. Alcala said the Department of Agriculture through its High Value Crops Development Program (HVCDP) directorate is ready to organize farmers’ groups in Quezon and Benguet to meet the demand and preferences of Singaporeans through Green and Fresh Pte. Ltd.

“We will talk with our farmers and seed growers and we will tell them what varieties you prefer. We can also supply you with banana leaves. We are also willing to expand our production areas to satisfy your quantity requirements,” Sec. Alcala told the Singaporeans during a courtesy call September 12 before they flew back to their country. They will be back shortly to accomplish needed documentation and procedures and follow up initial orders of vegetables from Quezon and Benguet.

He said the DA on behalf of qualified farmers’ groups is prepared to enter into a growing contract arrangement with the Singaporeans and other interested foreign and Filipino businessmen.

“We should have a timeline and we must consider such factors as production cost, logistics and freight requirements. The bottomline is still the cost and farmers’ income,” he said.

While in Benguet, the Singaporeans ­visited the farm of Francis Ching in Mankayan, which is planted to bell pepper, cabbage, romain lettuce, iceberg lettuce and coriander.

DA’s HVCDP director Jennifer Remoquillo said the Singaporeans were impressed with the vegetables of Mr. Ching, as they are of export quality. Ching is the 2010-2011 regional winner of Gawad Saka under the high value crops category. Gawad Saka, or the search for outstanding achievers in agriculture and fishery, is a yearly national contest spearheaded by the DA.

Remoquillo said the Singaporean group has made an initial order of Benguet vegetables as part of a preliminary contract that would include contract growing with farmers like Francis Ching.

The group has an initial order of lettuce, kamote (sweet potato) and onion. For their next visit to the Philippines, they will also look into possibility of buying more vegetables from Mindanao, Remoquillo said.

For his part, Patricio Ananayo, chief of the DA-Cordillera region agribusiness and marketing assistance division, said the Singaporean group was convinced of the quality and quantity of vegetables that Cordillera farmers like Mr. Francis Ching can produce.

He said the Singaporeans gave them seeds of several vegetables preferred in Singapore — like yellow bell pepper, chili, onions, and lettuce — for adaptability trials in Benguet and other Cordillera provinces.

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