Sustaining La Trinidad's Strawberry Tourism through Tissue Cultured Planting Materials

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Monday, March 31, 2014


(Conclusion of a two-part series article)

IT TAKES time for experts to speak their minds. And when they do, they offer it as an option. The language is not dictum. It respects evolving work that needs pursuing and the capacity of people to improve their lot.

I use that language to advance the cause of farming and those engage in it to eke out a living. In the end, I hope our causes are "joined" for wellness in food and soul.

In a letter published by the Baguio Midland Courier on its mail column, Dr. Percival Alipit, retired BSU Professor affirmed the importance of tissue-cultured strawberry planting materials to the livelihood of our strawberry growers in La Trinidad, and in sustaining the town's annual strawberry festival.

Among other suggestions, Dr. Percival Alipit said that, "the town's strawberry festival can yet be sustained using pest-free tissue cultured planting materials of selected cultivars to ensure high yield and quality."

Last week, I called up Mr. Norman Manangwi, President of the Strawberry Growers, Entrepreneurs and Technology Adaptors Association (SGETAA) to inquire about the performance of tissue-cultured planting materials. Some 30 plus members of the association source their tissue-cultured planting materials from the Department of Agriculture (DA) and La Trinidad local government unit (LGU).

"Of course, the planting materials are good, when well managed, following good agricultural practices," Managwi informed me over the phone.

"The berries are good, sweet." Managwi said except that he was quite unsure whether potential customers would agree with his evaluation, adding that the berries have "darker color and have sturdier texture."
I assured him, the quality of the berries is excellent, especially for customers who buy and transport the product for more than a day.

But really, Mr. Managwi's concern on the eating quality of strawberries can be addressed in a more exciting and participatory manner, even made part of marketing and promotions, through the Strawberry Festival itself.

I visited the Strawberry Festival eating contest this year, and it was simply about who can eat a plate of strawberries the fastest among kids, adults, mothers, single ladies and men, and fathers. Future contests should involve farmers and buyers of strawberries, who will determine on the spot, their choices of the sweetest and best quality fresh strawberry. Contests on other strawberry by-products like jam, jelly, wine, soaps and feminine wash, even tea and drink products can also be done. The criteria for judging the contest must come from the buyers, traders, farmers and breeders.

The town can also initiate a search for the best strawberry farmer to determine and promote best practices of strawberry production in the highlands.

New planting materials have been a problem for strawberry growers in La Trinidad beginning when Spanish colonizers introduced the berries in the 1800s.

About a decade ago, a visiting US Professor was surprised to find local farmers here still growing discarded strawberries varieties in his homeland, "generations ago."

Ms. Joan Dimas-Bacbac, High Value Commercial Crops Program focal person of the Department of Agriculture (DA), says that due to the lack of new planting materials, farmers hold on or buy the same planting material year in, year out. "Conventionally, farmers buy daughter crowns (planting materials) grown per plot and use these for 2-5 planting seasons," she wrote in a briefing paper for the DA-LGU project on the production of clean and quality strawberry planting materials.

The first commercially grown varieties starting in the 1960s were called "Missionary" and "Giant." Another variety, "Sweet Charlie," developed by the University of Florida, was among those introduced lately and remains as the favourite of many growers.

Over the years, the LGU of La Trinidad imported strawberry varieties from abroad to improve the existing local strawberry stock.

From the imported strawberries, the La Trinidad LGU evaluates and selects the strawberries for reproduction by the DA through tissue culture using runner tips that are multiplied in vitro in its laboratory at the BPI Compound, Guisad, Baguio City. Produced mother plants are given back to the La Trinidad LGU and accredited farmer associations and cooperatives for runner production. The multiplied runners (planting materials), are ultimately distributed to trained farmer members of the accredited farmer associations and cooperatives for planting in their respective farms.

Based on the monitoring of the La Trinidad LGU Municipal Agriculture Office (MAO) with the participation of the growers, each mother plant (from tissue culture), produces 50-90 runners with an observed increase in yield from 0.28 grams per plant to 0.50 grams per plant compared to conventionally grown plants. The return on investment for tissue cultured planting materials was computed at 53.43 percent.

The MAO of La Trinidad also reported that due to bacterial, viral and viroid diseases, the yield of conventionally grown strawberry plants are reduced by as much as 80 percent. It added that. "pest and diseases also contribute to low plant performance." The DA-LGU project hopes to correct and minimize these problems with the use of tissue cultured planting materials for clean mother plants.

Meantime, Dr. Macario Cadatal, another retired BSU Professor, recommended that since strawberries are eaten fresh, the main production area should be rehabilitated and kept clean from municipal waste contamination due to flooding. The berries should also be irrigated with clean water, he said.

BSU being the owner of the widest area planted to strawberries, the main subject area for tourists can slowly elevate the strawberry production area to world class standards since the institution has the experts and funds to do it, Dr. Cadatal wrote from the USA, where he is currently based. Both Dr. Cadatal and Dr. Alipit, see the need to have the strawberries irrigated with clean water and grown following organic agriculture strategies.

In their retirement, both experts of BSU, challenges the science of local farming that integrates biotechnology and organic farming strategies and applications. Certainly, not all will agree to that, but when all options are open to the farmer, let him separate the chaff from the grain given the conditions he is in. Under ideal conditions, he may use purely organic farming methods or a mix with other effective methods. It has been always like that, I suppose - in farming. In the end, I hope we get to eat only the best and real food, good for our well-being.

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on April 01, 2014.

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