Benguet farmers hoping Valentine’s Day will help them recover

A flower farmer in Bahong, La Trinidad prepares rose plants and flowers to be sold on Valentine’s Day. Despite the COVID-19 and its effects to the cut flower industry in La Trinidad, some farmers opted to plant roses hoping they could recoup past losses on the day of hearts. **RMC PIA-CAR

LA TRINIDAD, Benguet – Flower farmers in this town are hopeful that Valentine’s Day will become a way for them to recover some of their losses due to quarantine measures due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.
Belmer Elis, barangay chairperson of Bahong, the rose capital of the Philippines located here, said on Thursday they are hoping that people would buy flowers as usual for their loved ones during the occasion.
“Every purchase of the local rose or any flower variety will save the farmers from further incurring losses,” he said in the vernacular.
Bahong is the major producer of roses which are brought to various parts of the country, mostly at the Dangwa Flower Market in Manila.
Out of the village’s 8,000 population, 500 residents are listed as members of the association of flower growers at the village.
He said flower farmers are the most affected in the agriculture industry as their losses started before the declaration of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in March last year and lockdowns in many areas.
The country’s declaration of the ECQ also prohibited gatherings, events, and celebrations with many participants, resulting in a drop in demand for flowers and the cancellation of pre-ordered flowers for decoration.
“Simula pa nung nag-February, tapos nawala na ang nga graduation ceremonies at graduation balls, parties, events kahit mga malalaking kasal, debut at kung anu ano pang events na gumagamit ng maraming flowers na decoration (there were no graduation ceremonies and graduation balls, big wedding and debut parties or any event that uses flowers for their decorations),” said Elis, who is also a professional event organizer.
He said the cancellation of the Baguio Flower Festival or Panagbenga in 2020 and this year really add up to the losses in income of the farmers.
With the general community quarantine declared in the whole Cordillera and in Metro Manila, the farmers are seeing another round of losses.
“Pinaghandaan ulit ng farmers na may flowers kasi yan na ang kabuhayan nila talaga kaya mahirap na lumipat sa ibang product (Our farmers also prepared to assure flower supplies for the season. It has been their product for years and it is difficult for them to shift to another product),” Elis said.
He said that they estimated a minimum of PHP100 million loss in potential income as of November 2020 due to the pandemic.
The farmers’ production for All Saints and All Souls Day last year also went to waste with the prohibition for the public to visit the tombs of their relatives a week before, during and after the annual observance.
Elis said extra large roses are currently sold at PHP300 a bundle or two dozens, much lower than the PHP1,000 to PHP1,500 price range during the ‘Undas’ season.
Rose capital
Elis said Bahong was the first area in the locality that produced roses, making it earn the tag “rose capital” of the country. Farmers at the village later added other flower varieties like mums, baby’s breath, and others to complete the requirements in making a bouquet.
With the high demand for the commodity, the plantation sites were expanded to other villages like Alno and Alapang. Other villages in the capital town also went to flower production, thus the big amount of losses posted as an effect of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.
Elis said the government’s assistance under the Bayanihan to Recover as One (Bayanihan 2) where they were added by the Department of Tourism as beneficiaries was a big help to the farmers.
He said that as of December, a total of 202 farmers were able to receive PHP5,000 cash assistance while about 300 more farmers at his village are awaiting approval to be qualified.
He also mentioned the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) PHP25,000 soft loan program aside from the seedling survival program of the agency where farmers were given vegetable seedlings that flower farmers planted on pots for their personal use.
Elis said that they hope the flowers will also be included as among the list of high-value crops which means they would be regularly provided with assistance.
While the industry is still ailing at this time, the village chief said that they will never lose hope but will exert effort to survive.
“We are trying to make strategies so that we can sell our produce and see smiles on the faces of persons who get to receive a rose or two.” **Liza Agoot, PNA

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