September 30, 2023

Strawberry farmers in Benguet are calling the attention of authorities over the importation of strawberries from South Korea.

Agot Balanoy, public relations officer of the League of Associations at the La Trinidad Vegetable Trading Areas, said the Bureau of Plant Industry should explain why they have allowed the importation of strawberries from South Korea when there is enough supply of the produce from the local farmers.

“The BPI said that the importer’s market is for the Korean community here in the Philippines, but why is it that the Korean strawberries have flooded the wet market and high-end markets in Cebu?” Balanoy said.

She said their group learned that there are two container vans filled with strawberries being deli-vered to Cebu every week, with each van carrying 25,000 kilos. This led to the decreased volume of orders they are usually getting from their buyers in Cebu.

She said the strawberries from South Korea entered the country about two months ago.

Balanoy, who showed pictures of the strawberries from South Korea, said the latter is much smaller compared to the local strawberries.  

“What I see here is that the strawberries look like a reject in Korea because they are small. I have seen documentaries in Korea and their strawberries are big; it seems they only dumped their rejects here again,” Balanoy said.

She said their group has been decrying the entry of smuggled vegetables and now the entry of seemingly smuggled strawberries from South Korea.

She said their group learned that one of the licensed importers of BPI, to whom they alleged the strawberries from South Korea come from, has declared the import of ornamental plants only in their registration.

“Strawberries are not ornamental plants. This is a misdeclaration and misdeclaration is a form of smuggling,” she said.

Balanoy said in the Philippine-Korea Free Trade Agreement under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade-World Trade Organization, strawberry is not one of the commodities listed to be allowed entry to the country. 

She said right now, the price of strawberry from South Korea in malls is P1,999 per kilo. At the Korean wet market, it is sold  at P800 per kg and the Benguet wet market, the price is between P675 and P700 per kilo.

Last year, the Association of La Trinidad Valley Strawberry Growers and Processors passed a resolution to the Department of Agriculture through the Bureau of Plant Industry opposing the request of the Republic of Korea to export fresh strawberries to the country.

The group, led by its president Andy Colte, expressed concern over the possible entry of diseases that might come from the imported strawberries and its effect on the 730 farm households in the municipality “whose meager income depends on the industry.”

“The cropping season of Korea is the same with the Philippines and it will surely affect us economically from the producers and the other sectors in the value chain considering that the strawberry industry is just expanding as farm tourism opportunities in other provinces and some cooler regions in the Philippines,” they said.

The La Trinidad Sangguniang Bayan also passed a resolution backing the call of the strawberry farmers, which Mayor Romeo Salda attached to his letter addressed to BPI Director George Culaste in September 2020. 

Culaste replied the next month stating that the BPI is ready to limit importation once there are identified pests or hazards in fresh strawberries “that may cause adverse effects which are not or cannot be mitigated at the country of origin.”

“In this case, the BPI has identified phytosanitary measures, which were technically justified based on the result of risk assessment,” he said.

A quick search in the BPI’s website showed the list of registered South Korean packinghouses and orchards for export of strawberries in the country with 58 orchards and 18 packinghouses approved by the bureau.

Balanoy said they have already given samples of the strawberries to the Benguet State University for testing and risk-assessment. – Ofelia C. Empian