Metro Pacific, Israel’s LR Group to build PH’s biggest vegetable greenhouse
Tycoon Manuel V. Pangilinan-led Metro Pacific Investments Corp. sealed a second venture with Israel’s LR Group, this time to invest nearly P1 billion in the construction of the country’s biggest greenhouse facility in San Rafael, Bulacan.
Dubbed Metro Pacific Fresh Farms, the 22-hectare property will produce yearly 1,600 metric tons of vegetables such as lettuce, tomatoes, sweet peppers and eggplants once the modern greenhouses are finished in 12 months.
“We will make sure prices are affordable and we will make sure we will increase the supply of vegetables, principally for Metro Manila,” said Pangilinan, who is Metro Pacific chair and CEO.
The company, better known for its investments in infrastructure and utilities such Manila Electric Co., Maynilad Water Services and the Light Rail Transit Line 1, has been ramping up its diversification into agriculture after investing P200 million in the Carmen’s Best dairy group last year.
More recently, Metro Pacific and LR Group started a P2-billion modern daily farm in Laguna and announced a P5.3-billion investment in listed coconut processing and exports firm, Axelum Resources Corp.
Pangilinan said the group hoped to build a sustainable food business while helping the country achieve food security.
“We want to help build a nation that’s capable of feeding its people,” he said.
The LR Group, which developed technologies to grow high quality produce despite the challenging desert climate in Israel, will bring modern features to Metro Pacific Fresh Farms.
These include nutrient film technique hydroponics and drip irrigation systems capable of slashing water and land use by about 90 percent.
Juan Victor Hernandez, CEO of Metro Pacific Agro Ventures Inc., said modern techniques would allow them to increase production by five times compared to traditional farming practices.
“It will be a food factory,” he said during the groundbreaking event on Monday.
Even then, he acknowledged this was a relatively modest step in addressing the country’s food supply problems, which is amplified by soaring inflation.
“The vegetable market in Metro Manila alone is so big, even this facility will cater to just a small [part]. What’s important is this is a start. I think we need more of this in the future and part of the objective is to teach local farmers how to do it themselves,” Hernandez said.
The company is investing in vegetables to cater to the growing segment of the population seeking healthier fresh food options.
The lack of access to quality produce and high prices has kept the country’s vegetable consumption low compared to regional peers. Citing 2019 data, Metro Pacific said vegetable consumption per capita in the Philippines was 63.41 kilograms versus the Asian average of nearly 183 kg.
Pangilinan said agriculture investments will continue and Metro Pacific is considering converting a roughly 20-hectare property in Cavite for a “similar” greenhouse venture.
The Cavite and Bulacan properties were originally intended for an unsuccessful logistics business.
Pangilinan said they might eventually consider upping investments by building larger farms.
“The real challenge is to get into large-scale farming, which means we will need thousands of hectares to achieve that kind of scale,” he said.
“That’s the next challenge for the group: should we get into large sale farming to address the rice situation, the sugar situation and fruits?” Pangilinan said.
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