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Metro Pacific earmarks P1B for Bulacan greenhouse

From L to R: MPAV Chief Commercial Officer Toby Gatchalian, San Rafael Bulacan Mayor Mark Cholo I. Violago, Ambassador of Israel to the Philippines Ilan Fluss, LR Group Founder and Chairman Ami Lustig, MPIC Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Manuel V. Pangilinan, MPAV President and Chief Executive Officer Jovy I. Hernandez, LR Group Director and Head of the Agriculture Division Doron Retter, and PLDT, Inc. First Vice President Catherine Y. Yang. — PHOTO BY JUSTINE IRISH D. TABILE

By Justine Irish D. Tabile, Reporter

THE agribusiness arm of Metro Pacific Investments Corp. (MPIC) in partnership with Israel-based LR Group will be investing around P800 million to P1 billion in a vegetable greenhouse facility.

During the fresh farm’s groundbreaking ceremony on Monday, Metro Pacific Agro Ventures, Inc. (MPAV) President and Chief Executive Officer Jovy I. Hernandez said the facility will be able to supply 1,600 metric tons of vegetables a year.

The greenhouse facility, Metro Pacific Fresh Farms (MPFF), is said to be the largest in the country. In 12 months, it will rise on a 22-hectare lot in San Rafael, Bulacan.

“It is time to take advantage of the available technology and leverage against the traditional bottlenecks that we have encountered in the past. It is time to think closely of the type of food that we bring to the table and how it can be improved at a granular level,” MPAV Chief Commercial Officer Toby Gatchalian said.

“This greenhouse project in Bulacan is only the first step of launching and building a platform for a much larger advocacy. MPFF is but a part of a larger ecosystem that is set to fundamentally change how Filipinos eat,” he added.

Up to 15 hectares of the property will be used for MPAV’s irrigation centers, logistics warehouse, packing facility and energy facilities, while the remaining 7 hectares will be used for two greenhouses.

MPFF will be serving Metro Manila and neighboring provinces to provide farm-to-fork produce.

“The vegetable market in Metro Manila alone is so big, even this facility will only be able to cater [to] a small one,” Mr. Hernandez told reporters, adding that the facility is just the beginning.

“I think we need more of this in the future. And part of the objective is to teach the local farmers how to do it themselves,” he said.

Manuel V. Pangilinan, MPIC chairman, president and chief executive officer, said: “We’ll make sure the prices are affordable and we’ll make sure that we are able to increase the supply of vegetables in Metro Manila.”

With its modern farming technology, called nutrient film technique hydroponics and drip irrigation system, MPFF is expected to use 90% less water and land and 90-99% lesser fertilizers and pesticides, which is said to lessen the cost of producing vegetables.

MPIC through MPAV has been investing in various agricultural ventures beginning with its acquisition of dairy company Carmen’s Best Group and the recent purchase of an almost 35% stake in coconut products maker Axelum Resources Corp.

For the group’s next venture, Mr. Pangilinan said he is eyeing to get into large-scale farming, especially for farm produce that cannot be planted in a greenhouse facility.

“The real challenge is to get into large-scale farming, which means you need plenty of hectares to achieve the kind of scale and kind of cost that you worry about,” Mr. Pangilinan said. “Certain plants are just not capable of being planted in greenhouses like sugarcane.”

“That’s the next challenge for the group, [if] we should get into large-scale farming. But that’s what you need to address the rice situation and the sugar situation,” he added.

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