THE Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) said it hopes to expand production of foods that are in demand overseas, to take advantage of fads for products like ube, or purple yam.

DTI Export Marketing Bureau Director Senen M. Perlada told BusinessWorld that food suppliers regularly struggle to keep up with export demand when particular products become hits overseas.

“There’s a craze in the US for ube products — ube ice cream specifically. But there’s not enough ube to go around, he said after the DTI Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions (CITEM) Expo on Thursday.

He said that the Philippines must find more land to grow the products. “We need to really get our acts together in getting the supply.”

Mr. Perlada said the Philippines must produce more efficiently just to meet the large domestic market of more than 105 million Filipinos.

“Sometimes the domestic market is actually competing with the export market. Or you could do it the other way around — export markets competing with the domestic markets,” he said.

“In effect, our manufacturers are competing for the same materials that are actually being exported. So it drives up prices here and our exporters cannot compete with the cost of materials for them to process and be able to export abroad. We just really need to be able to have our high value crops, materials, and ingredients for our export products,” he added.

Researchers at Project GUHeat, or Geospatial Assessment and Modelling of Urban Heat Islands in Philippine Cities, found that the recent ube shortage was possibly caused by climate change.

The researchers said that the ube species native to southeastern Asia is “sensitive to small variations in photoperiod and temperature” and found that dry-season temperatures in Benguet, where many ube farms are located, have increased over four decades.

Reduced forest cover has also decreased natural shade for the yam, which “grows best in partially to fully-shaded conditions.”

“It’s really the period of adjustment in terms of being able to fulfil market demand. (I have to give) the Department of Agriculture some credit for being able to help us get the materials that we need in a manner that is really more market-centric,” Mr. Perlada said. — Jenina P. Ibañez