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Philippines: Benguet strawberry growers turn to other crops

A pronounced slump in tourism due to the ongoing COVID-19 quarantine has forced Benguet strawberry growers to shift to other crops after struggling to sell their harvest in the local market or even online.

About 50 percent or 460 tons of strawberry from a recent harvest season were spoiled because of lack of buyers and the restricted movement of people and goods, said Felly Ticbaen, municipal agriculture officer. Selling strawberries at lower prices also failed to help growers earn a decent income in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, she added said. Some 30 percent of 825 strawberry growers had started planting high-value commercial crops like lettuce to recoup their losses.

Known as the “strawberry capital of the country,” this Benguet capital produces an average of 1,175 tons of strawberry annually from more than 50 hectares of its agricultural land. quoted Peter Bulangen, a grower at the La Trinidad strawberry farm, as saying they had been relying on tourists to sell the bulk of their harvests before the pandemic in March. Bulangen said growing strawberries starts in October while harvest begins in December until May.

Alternative cash crops
As an alternative income, he said they now plant lettuce and cash crops that are resilient to rain. Major crowd-drawing events, such as the Baguio Flower Festival in February and the La Trinidad Strawberry Festival in March, had been boosting their sales but these had been canceled due to the health crisis, he said.

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