LA TRINIDAD, Benguet – The Department of Agriculture, Regional Field Office of the Cordillera Administrative Region (DA-RFO CAR) had boosted its strawberry industry amid COVID – 19 pandemic.

DA-RFO CAR Regional High Value Crop Development Program (HVCDP) Coordinator Joan Bacbac said that their support to the industry is continuing as over the past two years, the agency provided the local farmers with a worth of support assistance amounting to about P2.3M with P1.1M in this year alone.

The support had funded the Good Agricultural Practices ( GAP) certification, Small scale Irrigation Projects, Production Facilities such as nurseries and rain shelters, enhanced Learning Sites for Agriculture (LSA) for coaching and trainings.

The DA-RFO CAR through the Agribusiness and Marketing Division (AMAD) provided food passes to the farmers to locally market their strawberry product.

Through the Department’s program on Ani and Kita, the farmers were provided access to additional marketing platform through the DA’s Kadiwa Store as well as linkage to other markets.

In relation to marketing, a truck from DA collected the produced various vegetables including strawberries from as far as Bauko, Mountain Province, especially from the GAP-certified farms.

Joan Dimas of the DA-RFO CAR also reported that from July to September this year, farmers have planted the new crop anticipating the time when La Trinidad and Baguio will eventually be open to tourists.

To further strengthen the industry, a School-on-the-Air (SOA) for strawberry has been developed by the DA RFO CAR. It is being aired over Sagada Community Media Network Inc or known as Radyo Sagada from 6:15 am to 6:45 am every Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

Dimas said that 92 farmers are enrolled in the SOA that is scheduled to run from September to November.

A training on Strawberry Runner Production is set on September 15-16, 2020 with about 40 farmers expressing interest to participate.

“More are expected to join but the DA is still working out how to the training can be conducted given the current restrictions on physical distancing and travel,” said Dimas in her report.

Other programs are lined up for the local strawberry industry as the DA had partnered with the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department of Science and Technology, Agricultural Training Institute the Local Government Units, and with other like-minded agencies to ensure that local stakeholders are fully supported and fully engaged in keeping the industry alive.

Meanwhile, Bacbac cited that strawberry is one of the major commodities for the Department of Agriculture, which currently provides support to the industry through programs managed by the DA- RFO CAR and its HVCDP.

She said that strawberries are inextricably linked to Baguio and La Trinidad, even if other areas now grow them.

“The mere mention of the fruit conjures visions of picking one’s own at the so-called strawberry fields in La Trinidad and tasting the fruit fresh or in the many concoctions that local cooks and food processors have developed through the years. Nothing says I’ve been there for the local tourist than bringing home the standard pasalubong like strawberry jams, preserves, various pastries, and even wine,” said Bacbac.

She noted the strawberry is the backbone of an industry that supports 900 farmers and processors, and various types of micro, small and medium-scale enterprises (MSMEs) from ambulant strawberry taho vendors to the ubiquitous souvenir shops that dot the local tourist landscape; from the local restaurants that serve strawberry-based menus to the crafters who create various knickknacks for the buying public.

She added that strawberries dominate the market in February and March when Baguio City’s Panagbenga Festival and La Trinidad’s Strawberry Festival are celebrated.

“Production usually peaks in these months all the way to May, coinciding with the tourist season and giving strawberry farmers their highest income of the year. With both festivals canceled in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, local farmers and the HVCDP worked together to address the challenges brought about by the resulting quarantine restrictions,” said Bacbac.