By Henrylito D. Tacio
DAVAO is known for its fine beaches, exotic fruits, and endangered wildlife species. At the mere mention of the city, the vision of exquisite and varied orchids would immediately come into people’s minds from across the country and around the world.
In fact, Davao has carved its own comfortable niche in the world of flowers and has earned the distinction as the orchid capital of the Philippines. Orchids in the Philippines come in an amazing array of shapes, sizes and colors. Most grow only in old-growth forest, often on branches of huge trees dozens of meters above the forest floor.
With some 800 to 1,000 species of orchids, the Philippines has one of the richest orchid floras in the world. By contrast, Canada and the United States, including Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, have only 325 species among them. And most of these orchids are found in Davao, including the endangered waling-waling.
“Davao has a geographical advantage over other flower-producing places because its location is outside the typhoon belt and we can grow tropical and subtropical plants,” said Charita Puentespina, owner of the Puentespina Orchids and Tropical Plants, Inc.
The temperate weather of Davao makes it conducive to grow a wide array of ornamentals and cutfowers. According to Puentespina, orchids rake in the most profits and are available the whole year round.
In fact, it was because of her hobby of raising orchids way back in the late 1970s that she bought her first waling-waling. In the 1980s, she ventured into commercial production and that started her now-internationally renowned booming flower business.
“We started with orchids because, first I liked the flowers,” she disclosed. “Another thing, orchids were the ‘in’ crop at that time. Breeders from Malaysia, Singapore and Hawaii would visit Davao because there was good business here.”
In the early 1990s, Puentespina had a chance to travel to Europe which opened her eyes to the temperate kinds of flowers which they are growing up to now. “But the orchids are still very much present in our farms,” she pointed out.
Her farms are located in Malagos and Cadalian, both in Baguio District. “Orchids take about 10 hectares of the total cutflower area,” she said.
They harvest orchids three times a week and classify them into small, medium, large and extra large. “We sell them in the range of P110 (small) to P245 (extra large), depending on the kinds of orchids,” she explained. At the moment, the most saleable varieties are the dendrobiums followed by oncidiums.
“However, we give the retailers free rein in the prices of flowers especially during the peak seasons where demand of flowers increase,” she added. These are during the celebration of All Souls Day in November, Christmas in December, Valentine’s Day in February, and graduation days in March and during weddings which registers highest from December to February.
The retailers distribute the flowers to institutional buyers like hotels, restaurants, funeral parlors, supermarkets, flower shops, boutiques and street vendors.
Outside Davao, they sell their orchids in Manila and other major cities like Cebu, Bacolod, Iloilo and Zamboanga. “We send the orchids and other cutflowers by air in sturdy boxes, bundled in dozens,” she said.
Although orchid industry is blooming, it has its shares of problems. Cost of production, for instance, is high “because all are imported,” she said, “from planting materials, greenhouse materials, and fertilizers.”
In addition, they have to ship their flowers to Manila, its biggest market. Another one is the lack of planting materials in good quantity to use in the farm. “No importer will speak to us if our volume is low,” she said. “We increased our scale so more hectarage was devoted to orchids. Then we produced our own locally bred and locally cloned orchid. We use our laboratory extensively to supply our seedling needs.”
But Puentespina believes that orchid cutflower business is still very good, but its profitability is dependent on the cost of production. “With all chemicals and fertilizer cost going up, and the flower production rate still the same, the profitability is going down,” she said. “But the good thing is, orchids still remain popular in the shops.”
Does orchid industry ever receive any support from the government? “This has been a long battled issue,” she admitted. “The sunrise industry, as it was dubbed before, has been in the twilight without seeing success. I think the effort of the government does not reach the intended sector and if ever there is effort, it is not sustained. It has been more than 20 years since but we still have no orchid cutflower industry to speak of. We are still net importer. How sad really. If only we can have the kind of support that Thailand is giving its farmers, maybe we can succeed. This is by way of inputs support, market linkage and post harvest and other technology assistance. Freight cost can also be reduced.”
Is there still hope for the orchid industry? “Since we are net importer, there is so much room for improvement,” she said. “Only if the production cost can be lowered so it will be more encouraging to people to start growing again.”
But before a person should start planting orchids, she advises that he must know his market, where to get his sources of planting materials, and if he has ready available source of water and other inputs. “And if you can wait 3-4 years for the return of your investment,” she added.
“Orchid growing is truly rewarding venture but it requires that you put in a lot of passion and hard work to it,” Puentespina said. “You should also travel to see what the trends are so you do not end up with flowers that nobody wants anymore. And of course, you should enjoy gardening because if all else fails, at least you gave a nice haven to enjoy the view.” — ###