Would a two-kilo eggplant do for your frittata? In the farmlands of Central Luzon, agrarian reform beneficiaries are raising giant vegetables with special seeds from the Holy Land—and they’re making big news in town. “They’re excellent to showcase in your garden. I grew eggplants that weighed a kilo,” said farmer Rey Hilario of Talavera, Nueva Ecija. The seeds require only small plots of land and little watering, unlike some local vegetables.
The first garden for this big idea was the Central Luzon State University in Muñoz, Nueva Ecija, where the Philippine-Israel Centre for Agricultural Training (Picat) was launched in December 2010. The Israeli government provided seeds for giant eggplants, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuces and onions, while the university developed “protocols” for farmers to follow in growing the vegetables. The Israelis wanted to know if the agricultural technology to grow vegetables in their desert farms could also be used in the Philippines.
“They wanted to see if their produce could also be transplanted here. They wanted us to try these new varieties,” agricultural technologist Gionvanni Tomas of Llanera, Nueva Ecija, said. There were initially 10 farmer-participants in the Picat project during the first planting. The next planting, another set of 10 farmers were taught the protocols. “Unlike in the past when farmers grew their produce haphazardly, these farming protocols guided them on the correct amount of water and fertilizer to use,” Tomas said. Fertilizers are carefully measured for the Israeli vegetables to grow.
Farmers were encouraged to use organic fertilizers although commercial fertilizers were acceptable. They were also taught drip irrigation, a method that saves water and fertilizers by having water slowly drip into the roots of the vegetables. Tomas said participants who closely followed these farming protocols saw their profits increase by 25 percent to 50 percent. “It’s hard to teach our farmers, but once they learn and the weather cooperates, they get good results,” he said. Besides the experiment on giant vegetables, Picat also had a separate component that focused on training agrarian reform beneficiaries to closely follow better farming practices to improve their harvests and cut production cost. “We also had a commercial project that used local varieties of vegetables like tomatoes and ampalaya (bitter melon) and it was successful. Our customers were our local government units,” Tomas said. After the initial planting of the Israeli varieties, the onions and eggplants literally grew to their potential—about four times the size of the local variety of eggplants, or around two kilos. “That was the biggest that we got. But of course, the ideal (for local buyers) is just 700 grams or less than one kilo,” Tomas said. Agriculture officials are still exploring how to market these large vegetables—the Galil onions grew as big as knuckles—since initial buyers were apparently deterred by their size. After all, just how much eggplant omelette can one eat? Still, Tomas is hopeful that there is an untapped market for the giant vegetables. “I’ve seen vegetables as big as those in supermarkets. Maybe there’s something in that,” he said