The uncertainty of the market demand, both domestic and international, pushes the country's agricultural sector to continuously adjust and keep up with changes happenings in its environment. Concurrent with the high demand on fresh and safe foods, stringent quarantine measures are being imposed by major importers to the country's primary agricultural exports, one of which affected is the country's pride - the carabao mangoes. These safety measures have been enforced due to the threat of food-borne illnesses derived from imported agricultural products.
Although the country remains on the world's top 10 mango-producing countries which accounts to 3.5 percent of world supply and provide most of the Southeast Asia's market demand together with Thailand, the figure can still be raised if the mango industry players can maximize the full potentials of mango cultivation and production in the country, especially in areas that ensure the safeness and good quality of the mango. One of the seen counter-measures is establishing Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) - complaint mango farms in the country.
GAP: An evolving concept
GAP is "a set of consolidated safety and quality standards formulated for on-farm fruit and vegetable production". GAP is not a new concept in agriculture. Way back in 1997, The United States experienced a high cases of food-borne illness brought upon by importation of fruits and vegetables, thus an initiative that focuses on instituting safety standards on all the stages of 'farm-to-table food chain' was set into motion. Through the times, the concept has evolved, expanded and modified depending on the commodity concerned.
In 2005, the Department of Agriculture (DA) approved the Administrative Order (AO) No. 25 which solidify the compliance in GAP for fruits and vegetables farming through the certification program of the DA. The certification scheme for GAP ensures that highest health and safety standards for agricultural products are highly ensured and met. It zone in on the reduction of risks from pathogens, heavy metals and pesticide contamination with high regards on workers health and safety and protection of the environment.
Prior to the issuance of certification, the concerned individual growers or farms in the fruit and vegetable sector should first conform to the necessary requirements of GAP compliance and undergo rigorous inspection by the DA's Technical Working Group composed of various government agencies such as the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI), Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority (FPA), Bureau of Agriculture and Fisheries Product Standards (BAFPS), among others. BAFPS chaired the group and facilitated the awarding of GAP certification.
GAP for mango
As Philippine carabao mango, without question, is one of the in-demand varieties not only in the local market but to the international market as well. That is the reason why in 2011 the country was able to export of 20, 115 tons of fresh mangoes, of 36, 000 tons of dried mangoes and of 9, 328 tons of processed mangoes which enabled the country to earn a total of $50 million.
However, it is still uncertain if the country's mango will be continuously favored due to stiff competition in the world market especially in meeting the expectations on quality and safeness.
In this regard, a Code of GAP for Mango was especially formulated by the DA to the commodity. It is different in GAP for fruits and vegetables as it tackles the safety procedures and standards for mango alone. The GAP for Mango tackles the practices for pre- and post-production of safe and high quality mangoes intended for domestic and export markets.
For compliance, there are 6 key areas that undergo assessment. These are 1) farm location - suitability of agricultural land for mango production; 2) farm structure - cultivation, storage, packing areas and water system as well as equipment used; 3) farm environment - soil and water assessmentt; 4) farm maintenance - hygiene and cleanliness; 5) farm practices - pesticide and fertilizer application, pest and disease management, and post harvest handling and; 6) farm management - farm records, traceability, staff training. Every nooks and crooks are being inspected and if it did not conform to the GAP principle, necessary adjustments and overhaul are needed to be done by the farm owner.
One of the pressing issues in GAP in the country is the lack of certified farms especially in mango which is considered as non-existent. Through a project initiated by the DA-Ilocos Integrated Agricultural Research Center (ILIARC), this scenario will change as a certain mango farms in Ilocos Norte and Pangasinan are hopefully to be certified as it's almost completed the needed requirements for GAP certification.
Region 1 was selected for the project as the region has the highest mango production in the country. "Since our region has the highest mango production, why not put the first GAP-certified mango farms here" said by Ms. Connie Belarmino, ILIARC manager and project proponent. In Ilocos region alone, mango production accounts to 43% of total production in the country.
The project was funded by the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) through its National Technology Commercialization Program and the DA-High Value Crops Development Program (HVCDP).
The project is a joint venture of ILIARC and the Central Luzon Integrated Agricultural Research Center (CLIARC) in Region 3 with Zambales as the project site. At the end of the day, the two research stations aims to establish GAP-compliant mango farms in these two regions and at the same, encourage other major mango producers in Luzon to adopt the GAP.
The ILIARC was able to tap the services of Mr. Ricardo Tolentino as their farmer-cooperator for the project. He owned hectares of land which accommodates hundreds of mangoes trees. After Mr. Tolentino's farm got his GAP certification, Ms. Belarmino saw the potentials and the capability of Mr. Tolentino to persuade other mango growers to go into GAP as he is the incumbent president of the Federation of Mango Growers Association in Region 1.
BAFPS has already sent the ILIARC a copy of results of the initial inspection done to Mr. Tolentino's farm in February 2012. Aside from minor non-compliances such as putting up a warning sign in the pesticide storage facility and record of fertilizer preparation, Mr. Tolentino's farm is graded as having 'high level of adherence to GAP principles'. A final inspection will be done on the date of harvesting (which will be this coming April) so that the inspectors can take necessary mango samples for laboratory analysis. If he will pass the final inspection, this is a breakthrough for Mr. Tolentino as he will be the owner of first GAP-certified mango farm in the Philippines.
GAP and the market
"Being GAP-certified is not yet fully realized here in our market because we do not required it. However, we cannot tell in the future. As there is what we called trade liberalization where we have to improve our products especially in terms of safety and quality to make it at par with the other products available in the international market" asserted by Ms. Belarmino.
Tragic as it may seems, local consumers still do not fully comprehend the significance of buying a GAP-complaint commodity. As it already proliferated in other countries, only a handful of farms in the country are able to put into action the GAP principles. Moreover,there is no yet defining market price distinction between the GAP-complaint produce and those which did not.
Nevertheless, it will truly help those mango growers who are exporting their produce. As said earlier, some countries have imposed strict quarantine measures to mitigate the risk acquiring of food-borne illnesses. Being able to have certified commodities such as mangoes, we are able to penetrate this market and expand the country's market share. Currently, the major clientele for mangoes are Japan and Hongkong. Philippine mangoes also penetrated the mango markets of South Korea, Singapore, China, and United States. ?
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Phl mango production posts 7% growth. retrieved from: http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?publicationSubCategoryId=66&articleId=774732
Recent trends in world and U.S. mango production, trade, and consumption. Retrieved from: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/FE/FE71800.pdf
GAPs history. Retrieved from: http://ncsu.edu/enterprises/ncfreshproducesafety/good-agricultural-practices-gaps/gaps-info/gaps-history/