RP may soon dislodge Thailand as top exporter of okra to Japan

- Rocel Felix -
The Philippine fresh okra export industry is recovering from a major setback in 2001 and is within inches of taking over Thailand in 2006 as the biggest exporter of fresh okras to Japan with shipments next year projected to yield sales of about $8 million or P440 million.

"The fresh okra export industry is rebounding and we will be approximating, if not even exceeding our peak production levels in 2001. This will make the Philippines the biggest and most competitive exporter of okra to Japan as buyers are now shifting to us for their requirements," said Roberto C. Amores, president of the Philippine Okra Producers and Exporters Association (POPEA).

Amores said that for 2005, okra production will hit 2,000 metric tons (MT) valued at $6 million or P330 million, which is the same output in 2001 before Japan stopped buying and the local okra industry, forced to reduce production in subsequent years.

By 2006 though, production is projected to increase by 50 percent to 3,000 MT as more Japanese buyers get their requirements from the Philippines instead of Thailand.

Japan produces okra only from May to September but requires 10,000 MT of imported okra to meet the demand during the cold months from October to April.

"Japanese buyers are shifting to the Philippines as their major source of fresh okra because the industry is now producing better quality okras and has been consistent in implementing good agricultural practices ever since some of our shipments were detained and subsequently banned from entering Japanese ports," said Amores.

In 2001, fresh okras inspected at the Japanese ports were found to have Chlorypyrifos residue of 0.17 parts per million (ppm), way above the allowable maximum residue level (MRL) of 0.1 ppm.

Chlorpyrifos, a restricted pesticide is also used as a termicide. Its improper use is known to cause cholinesterase inhibition in humans. It can overstimulate the nervous system causing nausea, dizziness, confusion, and at high exposures, respiratory paralysis, and death.

The okras were detained in the Japanese port and were subjected to inspections, subsequently weakening their marketability because its shelf-life was reduced.

Thus, okra exports declined in 2002 to 400 metric tons (MT) worth $1 million from 2,000 MT in the previous year.

To comply with the Japanese health and quarantine authorities requirements, the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) imposed mandatory accreditation of farms and packaging stations of all exporters and growers.

At the same time, it assigned a code for each farmer that was reflected in the final cartons for export and this is now the so-called traceability code that will enable tracking of farmers and farmers not complying with the allowable MRL.

BPI quarantine inspectors were assigned to monitor the proper use of accredited chemicals and phytosanitary certificates were issued to the exporters after inspections of their respective packing houses.

Amores said however, that for the industry’s gains to be sustained, it needs the support of government in terms of financing short-term crop loans

POPEA already asked the Department of Agriculture (DA) to help the industry acquire an initial P10 million loan from government financial institutions such as the Quedancor.

Amores said okra contract growers in Tarlac, mostly small farmers, need additional capital to expand production.

"There is a lot of room for expansion but the major concern is that of credit," said Amores.












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