By Anna Gabriela A. Mogato
UNILEVER Philippines hopes to export pickled cucumber to Europe from its excess production in the Philippines as the ultimate goal of a raw-material local-sourcing initiative.
Unilever Asia Pacific Ltd. Cluster Procurement Manager Mervin C. Yapan said that the export threshold will be reached when its suppliers, smallholder farmers in Nueva Ecija, produce 2,400 metric tons (MT), double the current yields.
“Once the specification [of cucumbers] is okay and the samples are sent to Europe, then that would be a potential for us, the Philippines, to be a source because there is currently a global shortage for gherkins (a small cucumber used for pickling),” he added.
“So what we’ll do is to localize and look at Philippines as a central hub for sourcing.”
Mr. Yapan said the Unilever Sustainable Agricultural Code (USAC) calls for the company to train suppliers to adopt sustainable practices and earn a steady income.
“Every location, every farm has to be registered in the USAC. It’s like each place has its own plate number This is Unilever’s site, it has Unilever Sustainable Source Material,” he added.
Unilever currently sources 80% of its agricultural raw materials locally, including pineapples, mangoes, strawberries, purple yam, taro, coconuts, tamarind and turmeric, which are all exported by the company.
The company has set a goal of local and sustainable sourcing for 100% of agricultural product by 2020.
On the second year of production in the towns of Bongabon and Rizal in Nueva Ecija, around 80 hectares are devoted to growing the puccini variety of cucumber.
An average of 15 metric tons of puccini cucumber can be harvested per hectare, Ramon C. Palomo, one of the head farmers in Bongabon and a second-generation cucumber farmer, said.
Mr. Palomo has three hectares in Bongabon, and averaged 12.5 metric tons per hectare of cucumber in the last harvest.
Unilever sources its gherkins from Sunrich Manufacturing Corp., its supplier for 12 years.
“We partner with the farmers. We look[ed] for farmers when Unilever said that they intended to localize the sourcing of the cucumber,” Sunrich Farms Head of Sales May Samia said.
Prior to the localization project, Sunrich had been importing cucumbers from India.
Ms. Samia added that with the expectation to export this year, the company has added more curing capacity at its processing plant in Canlubang, Laguna.
The company also has another curing plant in Tarlac.
“Last year, we had a trial, [and we reached a yield of] about 300 MT, but now 1,200 MT is set [as the target]. We added additional curing tanks so we can have more planted,” Ms. Samia said.
This year’s harvest pulled in 300 farmers from 80 a year earlier, when Sunrich and Unilever began pilot testing.
Overall, Unilever has about 1,700 smallholder farmers signed up for its localization project.
Mr. Palomo plants cucumber for summer harvest.
After the short window for planting, Mr. Palomo shifts to planting rice for his own consumption, then to onions by the end of the year.
“It’s better if we have a partner company [for cucumbers],” he said.”
Mr. Palomo said that the cucumber earnings help pay for his children’s schooling, allowing him to keep the earnings from his onion harvest
In the domestic market, puccini cucumber can sell for up to P12 to P13 per kilo. Sunrich’s specifications are for cucumbers with a diameter of 1.5 inches, leaving the farmers the option to sell oversized cucumber on the market.
“Smaller cucumbers are preferred because they’re more stable in curing,” Ms. Samia said.
By Anna Gabriela A. Mogato