THE strawberry industry in La Trinidad is facing a decline due to land conversion projects, a problem aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic that created a situation that kept farmers away from berry cultivation.
Lands previously dedicated to strawberry cultivation in the town are now being encroached by development projects, said La Trinidad agriculturist Nida Organo on Monday, March 6.
She also said much of the land still used for strawberry cultivation in the municipality belongs to the state-run Benguet State University (BSU), accounting for 37 hectares of the currently 52 hectares of registered strawberry-dedicated farms.
BSU president Felipe Comila said the university was planning to open up its land grant to commercial investments to generate more revenue amid dwindling national subsidies.
Comila said the national government’s subsidy was no longer enough for the university’s main campus and extension campuses in the Benguet towns of Buguias and Kabayan, prompting the institution to seek alternative ways to generate income, such as opening up lands for private investors.
Organo said the remaining 17 hectares dedicated to strawberry cultivation were also dwindling as more landowners continued to convert their lots for commercial use.
She also said the COVID-19 pandemic further impacted the production and sales of strawberries, driving even more farmers away from berry cultivation.
During the crucial period of the pandemic, strawberry production dropped from 1,175 metric tons (MT) annually to only 700 MT.
While last year’s figures showed a recovery to 1,194 MT of production, Organo warned that production was still expected to dwindle.
Worried, the La Trinidad municipal government set aside P1.27 million from its agriculture budget this year for use in strawberry growing initiatives, and to address the decline.
The local government also allocated P500,000 for the importation of more strawberry runners to support farmers.
Officials said these initiatives aimed to help revive the local strawberry industry and support the livelihood of farmers in the municipality. – Initially published on Rappler.com
Angel Castillo is an Aries Rufo Journalism fellow.