Abe V Rotor
It was a long walk and we knew we were getting near our destination: the air was filled with the singular fragrance of an immaculate white flower, pride of the Filipinos as their national flower - sampaguita, scientifically known as Jasminium sambac.
The source of the fragrance sprawled before us – a track garden very much like a hillside tea farm in China or in Sri Lanka. Sampaguita and tea have a common growth pattern. They are bushy shrubs, trimmed waist high for convenience in harvesting, and deep green even in summer forming a continuous hedge. It also reminds me of vineyards in Europe and California where grapes are laid and trimmed on the contour of the land.
Each garden is the size of a typical rice paddy, a tenth of a hectare or one mu in China. This is equivalent to 1000 square meters or one-tenth of a hectare. Small as it may if compared with other farms, sampaguita is a high value crop. It requires initial high investment and the gestation period is around two years before commercial production begins. Production technology is rather new and the industry itself from farming to garland making is labor intensive. But the profit derived may be several times over that of an ordinary field crop. For a size of one to two mus, a family can comfortably live on the farm’s produce, and this is appropriate for small landholdings and fairly large families. The farm that our group visited was 1500 square meters. It is just ideal for the family that manages it.“It must be a profitable business,” I said unapologetically. The lady gardener smiled and looked down in a gesture of humility while doing some mental computation. The lady is an OFW turned entrepreneur. She is Brigida S. Batac, a former teacher who went to Saudi, then returned some years later. Today she heads the family farm.
Sampaguita is sold by the tabo, the size of motor oil can. One tabo sells for P50 on the average. The harvest from the Batac farm ranges from 50 to 100 tabo a day. This means the value of a day’s harvest is from P2,500 to P5,000. Assuming that harvesting is done daily, the monthly gross sale is from P75,000 to P150,000. When made into garlands the value is increased twice, so that the value of one tabo of sampaguita, now in garlands, is now P100 on the average. One tabo makes a hundred garlands, with four flowers each. A simple garland sells at P1.
Per computation of Miss Batac, the net profit after deducting direct production cost is 50 percent of the gross sale. One can do his own pen pushing to come up with how much the family earns, and how much more for larger and diversified farms.
We proceeded to the garland making area, the porch of the Batac residence. We met Brigida’s sister, Cristina, 27, who demonstrated the technique of garland making. Here the business cycle proceeds to cover manufacturing and agribusiness, which result to an increase in the value of the product, hence the term, value added. One can picture the case of the rice farmer and the trader. The latter undertakes the postharvest requirements and processes – drying, milling, storing and transporting – and virtually rakes the profit after the farmer has sold his palay.
The lesson we were witnessing is that production, processing and marketing must be integrated all under one roof. Imagine a farmer and the members of his family having control on these three aspects of business. Definitely the value added advantage does not go into the hands of the trader or middleman but to his own coffers, which he can put into savings and even investment, or plow it back into the enterprise. Subsequently the business becomes self-reliant which is the very essence of its viability and stability.
The main markets of sampaguita garlands are Solis in Quiapo, Balintawak, and Malolos. These centers, like Divisoria, serve as bagsakan (unloading and wholesale zone). From here the sampaguita garlands are retailed on sidewalks, around churches and restaurants where parties are usually held. It is the sampaguita a little girl offers, gently tapping your car’s window after stepping on the brake at some busy intersection in the city. It is the sampaguita we wear on graduation day, when we speak on stage, when we offer prayers to Santo Nino, the Virgin Mary or a patron saint. It is the sampaguita we simply hang in our sala or bedroom – its sight and fragrance exuding a feeling of freshness and peace.
I am sure many will agree with me that the sampaguita has made lasting impressions in our lives. One of these moments is recorded in this verse I wrote sometime ago.
“A trophy, that I would rather miss,
in exchange for a sampaguita lei
from a Miss who gives it with a kiss,
and that’s all I need to make my day.”
The sampaguita flowers are shy under the noon sun but the scenario is a respite as if we were among the blooming hedges of some Italian and French gardens. While I re-created this scenario, my lady companions from St. Paul College QC tried their hands in sewing sampaguita buds with abaca string ultimately forming the familiar leis and garlands. It is not an easy job. It takes a lot of skills, and one must work fast to be able to catch up with the freshness and aroma of the flowers – and to meet the market schedule. Both sisters, Brigida and Cristina, showed how patient teachers they were, and soon enough the group began to form a production line of sort, a prototype of an assembly line for mass production.
Tapping the Potentials of an Enterprise
We all saw the bright prospects of expanding the industry. As an entrepreneur, I sat down with the family and my colleagues and initially discussed the following aspects of the industry:
1. The economics of farm size. There is an economic size for every crop and kind of farm. There is need to make a feasibility study. Consult those who have larger farms.
2. Improvement of production technology in order to attain higher and uniform production volume, while cutting down production cost is primordial in any business. Work towards sustainable productivity.
3. Integration of the business with pendant flowers production inasmuch as champaca (Michella alba), ilang-ilang (Cananga odorata), and camia are the pendant flowers in demand.
4. Introduction of cut flowers production, which includes roses, gladiolus, daisies and even orchids is key to diversification. Planners call this horizontal integration. Blossoms of Heliconia (lobster’s claw and bird of paradise) have recently become popular in flower arrangement. From the results of pilot testing, select those that are adaptable and profitable.
5. Elimination of dangerous pesticides. Replace them with botanical pesticides such as pyrethrum and rotenone. These are biodegradable. Greenhouse cultivation is too sophisticated and expensive for an average farm. But there are makeshift plastic greenhouses, Japanese and Chinese models. Chemical pesticides, particularly chlorinated hydrocarbon and phosphatic compounds which act as systemic poison are hazardous not only to the gardener but also to the seller, buyer and recipient who unknowingly get the poison by inhalation and skin contact.
6. There is need to expand research into the many uses of sampaguita. There are a number of uses of sampaguita as alternative or folk medicine. In Malaysia women soak the flowers in water to be used in washing their faces. In China the flowers are used in giving aroma to tea. The flowers are applied as poultice to the breast of women to reduce the secretion of milk. Crushed flowers are also used as lactifuge.A paste compounded with the roots of Acacia is applied to relieve headache. The leaves are used as poultice for wound and skin ailments. There are other reported uses of the plant in pharmacology.
7. The production of Sampaguita perfume is another challenge, particularly if this is brought to the level of a cottage industry. I have tried Jasmin scented car fresheners and room deodorizers. I prefer it over lemon or strawberry scent.
Natural Versus Artificial Flowers
We discovered that the same family is engaged in making plastic flower out of plastic straw. Yes, plastic straw in all kinds of colors, including transparent ones. Bundles come from eateries and as rejects of plastic makers. What a paradox to have two opposing products – natural and artificial flowers!
Well, this shows that people have different taste, often contrasting tastes. Ms. Ruth Batac, 54, the mother of Brigida and Cristina, showed us her art. We examine it with awe and surprise. We thought only city dwellers have the art and liking for plastic crafts. “Where is your market?” Like the sampaguita garlands the plastic flowers and bouquets are sold in Manila.
I took a picture of Lola Batac and her grandchildren at work, then took a close-up of the finished product. A set of plastic bouquet sells from P100 to P300 depending upon the size, style and craftsmanship. The artist in me was challenged. I had underestimated the natural talents particularly in those who have had no chance to be discovered.
Continued, Part 2