Tomato is one of the most cultivated vegetables worldwide and is extensively grown as a secondary crop especially in rice and corn-based farming systems.

Consumption of tomato continues to increase due to its health benefits and wide variety of uses. It is an important element in cooking and as sidings in food preparation and as raw material in manufacturing tomato paste or ketchup.

The production of salad type tomato in the country, according to the data obtained from the High Value Crops Development Program (HVCDP), is the most sought crop in every Filipino household and used by establishments such as hotels, restaurants and fastfood chains.

According to the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (BAS), the production of tomato increased from 188.8 thousand MT in 2006 to 204.3 thousand MT in 2010 and registered an average annual growth rate of 3.87 percent. Likewise, area harvested increased from 17.1 thousand hectares in 2006 to 17.7 thousand hectares in 2010. Average yield recorded an annual growth rate of 3.08 percent. From 10.26 MT per hectare in 2006, it grew to 11.57 MT per hectare in 2010.

The Ilocos Region was the top producer with 69.62 thousand MT of production in 2010 or 34 percent of the country’s total tomato production. The other top producing regions and their shares to total production were Northern Mindanao (25 percent), Central Luzon (10 percent), and CALABARZON (9 percent).

Growing tomato is a good opportunity for Filipino farmers to augment their income. But the biggest challenge or threat is how to provide the desired volume and quality of tomatoes that the market demands on a daily basis the whole year round.

Although production of tomato is now becoming a profitable enterprise, most tomato farmers still do not produce the kind of tomato that is required fearing that its production is seasonal. Hence, most fastfood outlets in the country resort to importation to facilitate their daily operations.

To address the concerns on seasonality and perishability, the agriculture/” title=”View all articles about Department of Agriculture here”>Department of Agriculture – Bureau of Agricultural Research (DABAR) funded a study “Commercialization of Post-Harvest Technologies for Off-Season Supply of Tomatoes” for implementation by the Postharvest and Seed Sciences Division (PSSD), Crop Science Cluster, College of Agriculture of the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB).

The project was funded under the bureau’s National Technology Commercialization Program (NTCP) which is being spearheaded by the Technology Commercialization Division (TCD). The general aim of the project is to commercialize the village-level storage technologies that will increase the shelf-life of tomatoes over a long period of time after the peak harvest season.

The project leader and study leaders are Dr. Edralina Serrano, Dr. Kevin Yaptengco and Ms. Gloria Masilungan, respectively. Collaborating agencies under the project are the local government unit of Liliw, Laguna, the Tomato Growers of Liliw, Laguna and the local government unit of Manaoag, Pangasinan.

According to Dr. Serrano, the project aims to test the technical feasibility of postharvest technologies like the Modified Atmosphere (MA) storage and the evaporative cooling storage techniques on a commercial-scale. The technologies mentioned include the storage of tomato in moist coconut coir dust and evaporative cooling pad for high humidity storage. Laboratory trials showed reduced weight loss, extended shelf life, and improved appearance of tomatoes. To confirm feasibility of these technologies, pilot-scale trials and full scale commercial tests were likewise conducted.

tomato processing

The testing of coconut coir dust storage was carried out in Liliw, Laguna using commercial volume of freshly harvested mature green tomatoes. Bamboo baskets, as well as wooden and plastic crates, were tested as packaging containers. The use of polyethylene bag (PEB) as MA packaging material and the PSSD-patented ethylene scrubber (ES) to delay ripening were also tested in conjunction with coconut coir dust storage. Tomatoes were held under coir dust storage for one month at ambient temperatures and kept under observation by the local farmers and cooperators.

Results showed that the use of PEB and plastic or wooden crates as packaging containers resulted in higher recovery of good quality, marketable fruits compared to the use of bamboo baskets. Based on the partial budgeting technique, higher net benefits was realized by using the above-mentioned combination and when tomatoes were withdrawn and marketed on the 4th week following coir dust storage. A cooperator of the project in Liliw makes use of this technology to take advantage of price difference as the tomatoes are getting scarcer towards the end of the production season.

Results of test conducted over a four-day period using the evaporative chamber with charcoal as the evaporative pad showed that the humidity levels of 94-99 percent can be maintained inside the chamber. The net benefit of the technology could be made higher if the chamber is utilized throughout the year as storage and ripening chamber for crops other than tomatoes like eggplant and leafy vegetables.

The target and potential beneficiaries of the project are the farmers and farmer-cooperatives, traders, wholesalers, and retailers. The storage methods are expected to benefit the local markets. According to the project proponents, the Evaporative Cooling Pad for Low-Cost Storage of Fruits and Vegetables and the Modified Atmosphere (MA) packaging are alternative methods to conventional refrigeration for extending the shelf-life of perishable crops like tomato. Benefits of the technology include minimized weight loss and delayed ripening of tomatoes.

The cost-benefit analysis showed that vegetables stored under ambient conditions can lose up to 20 percent of their initial weight for the first day. In comparison, produce stored in the cooled chamber lose only four percent daily. In combination with a storage chamber, the technology allows traders to reduce the number of trips needed for purchasing vegetables. With these technologies, the concern on seasonability and perishability might be eliminated. And one can really say that there is gold in tomatoes.

by Patrick Raymund A. Lesaca, www.bar.gov.ph