Ornamental agriculture, which involves growing plants for decorative purposes and landscape design, is growing fast across the entire Philippines during the pandemic, and the government couldn’t keep up.
To catch up with this trend, Ernie Lito Bollosa, agriculturist at the Bureau of Plant Agriculture (BPI), an attached agency of the Department of Agriculture (DA), thinks the government should come up with an accreditation process for all seller ‘plantitos’ and ‘plantitas’ out there.
This, according to him, will make it easier for the government to give flower and plant growers access to support and credit; mandate them to follow a set of guidelines in terms of the use of chemicals on their plants, which will help ensure the safety of their and their workers’ health; improve traceability on the origin of the plants; and lastly, make sure that consumers are paying the right price – from the soil and pots to the plant itself.
All of these things are important to make ornamental agriculture an official, regulated industry within the farm sector, Bollosa said, but it may still take some time to make it happen.
Plantitos or plantitas are a portmanteau, a made-up word from combining the word ‘plants’ and ‘uncles or aunties’. The informal term is normally used to describe people who would acquire plants and would act as their guardians.
“We did observe that ornamental agriculture is booming. Buying and taking care of plants that are for decorative purposes has become a therapeutic activity for people during the pandemic. For others who lost their jobs, they started to venture in this, become plantitos and plantitas, and sell what they make,” Bollosa told Business Bulletin.
“Before, ornamental plants are just for landscaping. Now, people are also taking care of indoor plants. There are plants that are not being bought before that are already being bought now. There is already a demand,” he added.
But when asked if ornamental agriculture is a priority program of the government, Bollosa said the last time that ornamental agriculture became a government priority was still during the term of President Cory Aquino.
At that time, he said this was included in the list of high value crops (HVC) of the DA. It’s no longer the case now.
“Eventually, ornamental plants were set aside. Until now, there’s no specific areas [in the department’s program] stating ornamental plants as a source of income. But if we’re going to look at it, ornamental plants are the most expensive things to sell and therefore lucrative,” Bollosa said.
“[There are] no concrete programs. [There is] no industry. But there are some groups that are into horticulture already. These are private growers. You can see some of them in Dangwa. They sell cut flowers, roses, etc,” he added.
He was referring to the Dangwa Flower Market, known as the Bulaklakan ng Maynila, in Dimasalang, Samploc in Manila.
The challenge now, Bollosa said, is to create guidelines to help small flower and plant growers aspiring to become businessmen.
The intention, he said, is to make an accreditation process like in fruits where there is a specific set of guidelines on the quality of planting materials that could be used.
“We want to regulate them in terms of the use of chemicals. We can help them by providing credit or fertilizers. We can help them form into cooperatives and then we will provide shared facilities. These are the interventions that the government can provide. We don’t want to set them aside,” Bollosa said.
In the Philippines, BPI – where Bollosa is working – is the government agency mandated to support and develop the country’s entire plant industry.
As part of the planned accreditation process, Bollosa said the government wants to make sure that the collection of rare plants will not harm the environment.
“If you will be accredited by BPI and you will follow the guidelines that we will come up with, it will be easier for you to import and export plant products. Second, you can always have dialogue with us when you encounter a problem,” Bollosa said.
“For sure, a lot of people do not want to be regulated, especially in terms of the price, but this is going to be an inter-agency effort. In terms of price regulation, DTI [Department of Trade and Industry] will help us. In terms of plant traceability, the DENR [Department of Environment and Natural Resources] will be there. In terms of the provision of the credit, DA will be there. We will help you with the capital and marketing assistance,” he added.
For her part, Stephanie Turiano Sinco, owner of Plains and Plants, plant and flower growers who work in small farms could definitely get help from the government perhaps by providing them with healthcare and retirement benefits.
Sinco, 28, launched Plains and Plants in June as a personal project after both of her and her husband’s jobs were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We had to find something that will help us get by. And thankfully, we founded Plains and Plants,” Sinco said.
At first, she just wanted to fill her house with plants, but as she started to engage with more people from “plant groups,” she realized that there’s a lot of demand in this industry.
“That’s where it all started. I’ve always wanted to have a business related to home decor. That’s where Plains and Plants got its name. Plains being the ornaments and Plants for plants,” Sinco told Business Bulletin.
Plains and Plants is based in Sta. Rosa, Laguna but most of its clients come from Metro Manila.
Sinco said she offers rare plants for collectors and that “one thing that sets us apart is that aside from doing everything — from picking up the plants from the farm, to repotting them and delivering them — we also provide after-sales services”.
“We help our clients grow their plants, even the ones that didn’t come from us,” Sinco further said.