BUTUAN CITY -- Consolidation and marketing opportunities in the domestic vegetable trade will be highlighted at the 7th Mindanao Vegetable Congress, which will be held from August 4 to 5 at the Almont Hotel and Inland Resort here.

"Sustaining the gains of the vegetable industry in Mindanao amidst challenges" is the theme of this year's Congress, which will showcase industry trends, provide presentations on the latest vegetable production technologies and hold "market-matching" meetings between growers and retail and institutional buyers.

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The event is supported by the City Government of Butuan, the Provincial Governments of Agusan del Norte and Agusan del Sur, the Department of Agriculture, the Southern Philippine Vegetable Council (SPVC), and United States Assistance for International Development's (USAid) Growth with Equity in Mindanao (GEM) Program.

"This annual event has given a boost to vegetable growers in Mindanao," said Valeriano Palco, president of the Caraga High-Value Cluster Inc. (CHiVeCC), lead organizer of this year's congress.

CHiVeCC is among several vegetable industry groups engaging in private sector collaboration to improve the production and domestic out-shipment of selected vegetable varieties from the region to Luzon and the Visayas, with GEM assistance.

These include larger umbrella organizations such as the SPVC, Davao Norte Vegetable Industry Development Association, Vegetable Industry Development Council, Central Mindanao Vegetable Industry Development Council, ZaNorte Hi-Green Vegetable Growers Association, and the Northern Mindanao Vegetable Producers Association Inc., which directly link small-hold growers to markets through commodity clustering strategies.

According to Palco, Caraga's agro-climatic conditions are highly suitable for growing semi-temperate vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, cabbage and broccoli, as well as tropical varieties like squash, eggplant and bitter gourd.

He pointed out that Caraga's proximity to markets in the Visayas, particularly Leyte and Cebu, is a strategic advantage and can help position it as a vegetable supplier, particularly since it is typhoon-free.

"We aim to take advantage of these markets particularly when the buying prices for vegetables are high," he said.

Palco said CHiVeCC is now shipping around 20 metric tons of vegetables weekly to Leyte and Cebu, including squash, eggplant, bitter gourd and okra. The produce is shipped from Nasipit Port and reaches buyers within 11 hours.

He added that Caraga growers are working to become as well-organized as their counterparts in Davao and Bukidnon, with a solid market base, and that the upcoming Congress will encourage local growers to further improve their production and marketing systems. (GEM)