A glut of mangos has left the government scrambling to sell them before it’s too late. But poorly-regulated supply chains hamper international sales.
By Zachary Frye
The Philippines, with just the right ratio of rain, sunshine, and humidity, is a mango grower’s paradise. The country is home to more than seven million mango trees. As a high-value crop, the national fruit offers a livelihood to rural farmers and suppliers.
But this year, a particularly strong growing season brought on by El Niño winds led to a bumper mango harvest. With an abundance of fruit and a saturated domestic market, suppliers are struggling to get their products out to the masses before they go bad.
At first glance, it might be tempting to brush the problem off as unavoidable. But while the surplus itself may be inevitable, problems with getting the product out to market shouldn’t be. The bumper mango harvest has exposed glaring issues in the country’s supply chain management and environmental oversight. The country must modernise supply chains to prevent a similar situation in the future.
Local supply chains are ill equipped for stringent export standards
One of the most difficult aspects of food management is maintaining freshness from harvest to table. In developing countries, these systems are often poorly regulated.
Domestic buyers might downplay regulations, but they are very important in international markets. There are a host of sanitary regulations that must be met in order to proceed with an international sale.
But limited resources and a lack of standardization make it difficult for Filipino suppliers to meet these stringent international guidelines. For Japan, a traditional buyer of Filipino mangos, safety standards are paramount.
According to the Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol, Japanese exports have dropped from 7,000 metric tonnes (MT) to 300 MT over sanitation concerns.
As it stands, over 98% of the Philippines’ mango production is stuck in domestic markets. Moving forward, the Department of Agriculture (DA) hopes to increase grower’s capacity to meet international standards.
“We will identify there what the farmers need, like bottling and storage because mangoes are a seasonal crop,” Piñol said.
The government needs to step up its regulatory capacities
In 2017, the DA, along with growers and local stakeholders, published a ‘Mango Roadmap’ that laid out a five-year plan to improve the industry.
It aimed to increase production by 3% per year, reduce production costs by 25-30%, and reduce post-production losses from 40% to 14%. Increased export volumes are also on the agenda but the DA did not set a numerical target.
In addition, the government hopes to open 50 Mango Learning Centres around the country by 2022, demonstrating a willingness to prioritise the industry.
The Philippines should focus on sustainability and digitalisation
In response to the bumper crop, the DA initiated a promotional marketing campaign in the Manila metro region.
A two-day event showcased special mango products from around the country in an attempt to push the surplus on local consumers. In its first three hours, approximately 15 metric tons of mangos were sold at heavily reduced prices.
The government is also suggesting local producers focus on ‘value-adding.’ Value adding is a business term meaning the base product is enhanced before entering the market.
In the context of Filipino mangos, this could mean drying or preserving the fruit in order to make it easier to sell.
In order to create the best business environment for local farmers moving forward, the government’s focus should be on supply chain management, with sustainability and digitalisation at its heart.
First and foremost, environmentally friendly farming practices must become the norm for local growers. This would not only safeguard farmer’s health but also help buttress their bottom line.
The digitalisation of the supply chain is also paramount. The Philippines currently lacks an agriculture market data system that could give warnings on unbalanced production volumes. In practice, this means that the supply chain is operating blind.
According to Ralf Seifert from the International Institute for Management Development, focusing on data can be hugely beneficial for agriculture chains.
Data systems can forecast potential gluts in the market and reduce the risk of overstock. They will also benefit the consumers and businesses in the chain, by using predictive models to anticipate orders and shortage, reducing delivery times.
In order to prevent a similar oversupply debacle in the future, the Philippines needs to modernise its mango industry. Strict environmental growing standards should be introduced and regulatory enforcement regimes should be strengthened.
Filipino mangos are considered some of the best in the world. There is a big opportunity to increase its international market share and guarantee a safe and sustainable industry for future generations. To make this a reality, the government needs to work hard to implement its goals and support all stakeholders, especially farmers and consumers.