Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Plotting the Future for BSU Strawberry Farms

Photo by Tripsiders

The Strawberry Farm’s crimson crop could lose its cream if potentials will not be given the attention it deserve.

The strawberry farm remains to be one of the main destination for tourists in La Trinidad Benguet where its farmers found an avenue to sell their crop. Local producers and farmers who uses the land provided by the Benguet State University (BSU) gained the opportunity to bring their harvests and other goods to the national market where tourists comprise the large portion as their consumers.

 “I came all the way from Cavite just to see the strawberries”, says Nica Torres one of the many tourists who visited the Strawberry Farm to see and buy fresh strawberries and experience first-hand picking from the strawberry patches. This crimson crop of the valley attracts people from different places and have introduce them to Benguet Province’s other attractions as an agri-destination.

The fact that the people themselves are the ones who get to pick the berries straight from their patches keeps people coming from different regions of the country to the Cordillera region. The Strawberry Farm reminds the locals and visitors that Baguio City is not the only source of vacation hotspots in the North. La Trinidad is just among other municipalities in Benguet that offers out of town experience to many travelers and visitors.

Grassroots’ Advocate

There are about 42 farmers who lease farms at the BSU Strawberry Farm.  According to Prof. Danilo P. Padua, former director of the BSU Business Affairs Office and Strawberry farming and production research expert, BSU’s priority is to lend the land to the farmers and allow them to develop their own area in the way they want.

BSU rents out the land to farmers at 15 pesos per square meters in a year. “We rent the land but we put up the stalls, and the farmers are in charge of maintaining and improving the land they rent (Nirerent lang namin yung lupa tapos kami na ang gagawa ng stall at yung sa mga farmer yung lupa nila na nirent ay bahala na sila mag ayus o gawin ang gusto nila.), according to Myrna Akilit, a stall owner at the Strawberry Farm for more than ten years now.

According to Dr. Jones Feliciano, Vice President for Business Affairs of Benguet State University in an interview, the main purpose of the Strawberry Farm is to serve as an income generating project (IGP) of BSU.

As cited on the official website of BSU the Strawberry Farm is included in one of the 21 income generating projects of the University that supplement the subsidy it receives from the General Appropriations Acts (GAA). The IGPS include Bakery, Food Processing Center, Souvenir and Gift Shop, Marketing Center, Multi-Vegetable Production, BSU Garments, RSDC Canteen, Strawberry Restaurant, the Gladiola Center, Agricultural Land Use, Commercial Space Use, Sariling Sikap Program, Strawberry Production Project, Guestels (HMEG), and SLS Canteen, among others.

One of the farmers located at the BSU ATIB-IC shared that the area where they are farming is under development. Farmers in located at the front entrance of the Strawberry farm undergoes training and research for improvement. “Kaming mga farmers ang mag-dedevelop ng farm namin. (We are farmers are the ones who would develop our farm.)”, he said.

Top Tourism Spot in La Trinidad
           
The Strawberry Farm also brings tourism opportunities for the municipality of La Trinidad. Among other strawberry farms in the municipality, the BSU Strawberry Farm has the widest land area and production of strawberries.

“Tourists can see our products, like strawberry taho, from social media. With this they are magnetized to visit Benguet. (Yung mga tinitinda namin nakikita ng mga tao sa social media. Nahahatak nila mga turista dito sa Benguet.)”, says manong Bruce Castillo a taho vendor at the farm for more than ten years.

The Department of Tourism Cordillera Region have been listing the Strawberry Farms as one of the top most visited site in Benguet for many years. Further , it has been included as part of the Baguio City tour itinerary since the city’s tourism boom.

To visit or not to visit again?

Despite the benefits of being a tourist destination, there are few concerns from the vendors around the farm and the visitors.

“The Number one problem here is the lack of parking lots, but because this is the property of BSU their approval should be sought first”, explains manong Bruce. “Lack of trash bins is also a problem…”, he added, “…the trash of the tourists were scattered because they do not know where to throw so it affects the beauty of the place.”

A farmer suggested to pave the pathways along the strawberry farm. He added that tourists complains about the muddy passageways. “This has been, apparently, a plan way, way back but it’s not yet implemented”, he shared.

Lack in advertising is also a problem as observed by the residents. People from different places thought that the farm is located in Baguio City. Also, during strawberry festival, tourists were not as many as during Panagbenga or other famous festivals in the country.

Aside from strawberries, the farm also produces lettuce, broccoli, sweet peas, beans, some varieties of flowers that grows in Benguet. These are the products the tourists see and buy especially during the rainy season when strawberries are not available.

La Trinidad Strawberry Farm overtaken?

            Strawberries require a specific climatic condition to grow. However, other provinces like Davao and Bicol have strawberry farms now. Photos of these farms posted in the internet would show that they have wide strawberry farms with green houses. Davao plant the berries in a bamboo stalk to prevent the strawberries lay on the ground also to provide a walkway conducive for visitors exploring the farm. Bicol on the other hand, focused on the aesthetic aspects of their strawberry farm. They have photo booths and good signage and designs in their view deck and entrance.

            Dr. Feliciano also believes that BSU’s strawberry farm needs a lot of improvement but the University still needs to seek assistance for funds. “We requested to the accounting office for enough fund for the improvement of the farm. We need to improve it because it is the main tourist attraction of the province of Benguet particularly La Trinidad so by all means we need to develop it.”

            “I do not believe that other places can surpass our strawberry farm. If they’ll produce strawberries in the low land, it will be for temporary production since we can only provide the needed climatic condition by nature to grow strawberries. They cannot come up with the kind of quality we produce here in Benguet”, Feliciano added.

Plotting the plans of the farm

For the past few years the Benguet State University and its co-stakeholders are looking out on improving the state of the farm.

            Dr. Padua, had headed a group from BSU who wants to improve the farm for tourism purposes. According to him, they passed a draft to the BSU administration for the development plan with the help of a Canadian expert.

            The development plan includes producing new varieties of strawberries, installing more trash bins inside the farm for cleaner environment, and having a good source of water.  The farm is also in need of green-houses too to produce strawberries even in rainy seasons. CRs, information desk, uniform stalls, good view deck, wider parking lots and establishing a restaurant to improve the tourism is also part of the plan.

            “We had the draft but they didn’t give us a go signal to push the development plan”, Dr. Padua said.

            Dr. Feliciano also enumerated the things UBA wants to improve for the improvement of the farm. These are: sourcing out a good portable irrigation system, very good view deck, road system, drainage canals, comfortable comfort rooms, restaurant that will cater the needs of the tourist going to the farm, very good parking area, and green houses.

            “The plans will be implemented at soonest possible time. We are trying to source out financers because that requires a multi-million cost of project to develop”, Dr. Feliciano answered.

Season of Implementation to Come

            UBA and Padua’s team has the same views on what to improve in the farm. The plans were broadcasted during the BSU Kapihan 2013. But as observed, the farm now, two years since the plans were constructed, the aesthetic aspect of the place only got worst.

The La Trinidad Tourism Plan has already been approved since the first quarter of this year, although we understand that BSU have their own plans for the site. “Implementation lang ang hinihintay. (We are only waiting for implementation), says Valred Olsim, Municipal Tourism Officer.

There are four main projects which are included in the Tourism Plan in which BSU’s approval and intervention are paramount. These are, beautification of CR, building of view decks, good parking lots and landscaping of the farm/parking area.

The plan was created through the efforts of several stakeholders which compose the Tourism council of La Trinidad. The council includes representatives from Benguet State University, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Local Government Unit, Barangay councils, Non-Government Organizations and private sectors.  //Jessica Caranay & Gerbien Mansilla (BSU-DEVCOMM)

* I promised Jessica and Gerbien to publish their story in my blog as part of their final output in their academic requirements. I'd like to thank them for this good start as fellow DevComm practitioners. Good luck to all endeavors!

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