Tuesday, November 27, 2012

About Sampaguita and Kangkong

Dr Abe V Rotor
Living with Nature School on Blog
Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid with Ms Melly C Tenorio
738 DZRB AM 8 to 9 Evening Class Monday to Friday
      It was a long walk and the hikers knew they were getting near their destination, a flower farm in San Luis, Pampanga in Central Luzon, Philippines. The air was filled with the singular fragrance of an immaculate white flower, the sampaguita. This flower is the pride of the Filipinos, it being their national flower. Its scientific name is Jasminium sambac.
      The source of the fragrance sprawled before the hikers – 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 to form a continuous hedge that makes harvesting easier. It also reminds one of vineyards in Europe and California where grapes grow following the contour of the land.

Sampaguita Farming

      Each garden is the size of a typical rice paddy, a tenth of a hectare (or one mu in China).  This is equivalent to 1,000 square meters or one-tenth of a hectare.  Small as it may when compared with other farms, sampaguita is a high value crop. It requires initial high investment and takes around two years to become commercially productive.  Production technology is rather new and the industry - 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 with fairly large families. The farm which the group of hikers visited (one of whom is the author) is just ideal for one family to manage.

      “Sampaguita must be a profitable business,” we asked.  The lady gardener smiled and looked down in a gesture of humility while doing some mental computation. The lady is an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW)-turned-entrepreneur.  She is Brigida S. Batac, a former school 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) of about P50.00 (US$1.00) per tabo. The harvest from the Batac farm ranges from 50 to 100 tabos a day.  This means the value of a day’s harvest is from P2,500.00 (US$50.00) to P5,000.00 (US$100.00).  Assuming that harvesting is done daily, the monthly gross sale is from P75,000.00 (US$1,500.00) to P150,000.00 (US$3,000.00).  When made into garlands, the value of the flower is doubled. A tabo contains a hundred garlands, with four flowers each.  And a garland sells at P1.00 (US$0.02) apiece.

     Net profits, after deducting the cost production, is 50 percent of each gross sale.  One can do one’s own pencil pushing to come up with the amount each family can earn.

Sampaguita Garlands

      The garland making area is the family porch of this Batac home. Brigida’s sister, Cristina, 27, demonstrated the technique of garland making. As the farming business proceeds manufacturing, the value of the product is increased, hence the term, value added

      One can picture the case of the rice farmer and the trader.  The latter undertakes the post-production work of drying, milling, storing and transporting. By doing so, he virtually takes the profit away after the farmer had sold his palay at a relatively low price.

      The lesson to be learned is that production, processing and marketing must be integrated in one roof, with a farmer, and members of his family having control over these aspects of business. Subsequently, the business becomes more self-reliant and viable.

Marketing Scheme

      The main markets of sampaguita garlands are Solis in Quiapo in Manila, Balintawak Monumento, and Malolos, Bulacan.  These centers, like Divisoria, serve as bagsakan (unloading and wholesale zone).  From here, the sampaguita garlands are retailed in 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, and which we offer to the Santo NiƱo. It is the sampaguita we simply hang in our sala (living room) or bedroom. Its sight and fragrance exudes a feeling of freshness and peace.

      Many will agree with the author that the sampaguita has made lasting impressions in our lives.  One of these moments is recorded in this verse he wrote sometime ago.
“A trophy, that I would rather miss;
for a sampaguita from a Miss
 who gives it to me with a kiss.”

      The sampaguita flowers are shy under the noonday sun but the scenario is a respite as if we were among the blooming hedges of some Italian- or French-type garden.

      Other members of the group from Manila tried their hands in stringing some sampaguita buds, forming the familiar leis and garlands.  It is not an easy job.  It takes a lot of skill, and speed to keep up with the freshness and aroma of the flowers, thus meeting the market schedules. Both sisters, Brigida and Cristina, were patient teachers, and soon enough the group began to form a production line of sorts, a prototype of the assembly line for mass production.
Tapping the Potentials of an Enterprise
      With the bright prospects of expanding the industry, we sat down with the family and talked about some aspects of the business. This is what we found out which may be useful to those wanting to develop a sampaguita plantation:

1.     There is an economic farm size for every crop in a farm. A feasibility study is needed. Consult those who have larger farms.

2.     Production technology must be improved to attain higher, and more uniform production volumes, while cutting down costs.  Work towards sustainable productivity.

3.     Integrate the flower planting business with pendant flower production such as champaca (Michella alba), ilang-ilang (Cananga odorata), and camia, some of the pendant flowers in demand.

4.     Introduce cut flower production for roses, gladiolus, daisies and even orchids for diversification.  Planners call this horizontal integration. Blossoms of Heliconia (lobster’s claw or bird of paradise) have recently become popular as a flower arrangement. From the results of pilot testing, select those flowers which are adaptable and profitable.

5.     Eliminate the use of dangerous chemical pesticides.  Replace them with botanical pest exterminators such as pyrethrum and rotenone  which are biodegradable. Greenhouse cultivation is too sophisticated and expensive for the average farm. But there are makeshift plastic greenhouses using Japanese and Chinese models. Chlorinated hydrocarbon and phosphatic compounds, chemical pesticides which act as systemic poisons, are hazardous to the gardener and the seller alike, through poison inhalation and skin contact.

6.     There is need to expand research into the many uses of sampaguita. There are a number of medicinal uses of sampaguita. In Malaysia, women soak the flowers in water for washing their faces. In China the flowers are used to give added aroma to tea.  The flowers are applied as poultice, or medicated mass, covering to the breasts of women to reduce their secretion of milk. A paste compounded with the roots of Acacia is applied to relieve headache. The leaves are used as poultice and spread over sores or other lesions.

7.     The production of sampaguita for perfumes, car fresheners or room deodorizers is another challenge for cottage industrialists.

Kangkong Farming

      From the garden of fragrance, sampaguita, the group of hikers walked over to another garden of vegetables, kangkong. No sinigang is ever cooked without this vegetable.  Kangkong is the most popular vegetable in the Philippines.  It is often dubbed the gulay ng masa (people’s vegetable), because of its cheapness, and availability everywhere and anytime of the year. Kangkong, or swamp cabbage, is scientifically known as Ipomea aquatica. It is in Barangay San Jose in San Luis, Pampanga, where a group of visitors, including this writer, were invited to observe how kangkong was cultivated like most farm-produced crops are.  

      Mang Ben Miranda took us to the edge of a stream, where he rowed a flat-bottomed boat to a kangkong pen. He then showed us how the shoots grow outward from the  “floating gardens” like the way the Aztecs grow vegetables on Texcoco Lake in Mexico, or the way Burmese farm vegetables on mud mounds where the farmer rows a dugout canoe to attend to his plants.  Another version of this unique agriculture is Sorjan farming in Pakistan and India, characterized by intervals of plots and canals.

      The thick mass of kangkong, two to three meters across, is tied to bamboo poles to steady it against stream flow, while keeping the floating vines intact. While on the boat, the harvester picks the shoots, foot long in length, which he later bundles into a thickness the size of a thigh.  This is later repacked at the market into five to six shoots per bundle, and sold for P5.00 (US$0.10) each.

      The key to productivity of kangkong is to grow it in fresh, unpolluted waters or streams.  Contrary to general belief, kangkong is not just a wild plant growing in canals and swamps.  There are several varieties of kangkong and the commercial ones are cultivated the same way as other field crops are raised.  The upland variety is short and lean, and is preferred for adobong kangkong, fried kangkong, or simply blanched for table salad (with tomatoes, onions and a dash of salt). 
Food and Mineral Value of Kangkong
      What are the mineral food content of kangkong? According to Maranon in the Philippine Journal of Science, young shoots of this plant, are rich in Phosphorus, Calcium, and Iron. The significant food value consists mainly of 3.64 percent carbohydrates, and 4.25 percent protein. Crude fiber however, cannot sufficiently supply our body’s fiber requirement since it is less than one percent in content.

      One objection to eating kangkong is the danger it may carry toxic metals.  An experiment conducted by Myrna Ramos at the University of Santo Tomas showed that lead can be absorbed by the plant and deposited in its stems and leaves. There is suspicion that mercury, a more toxic metal, can also be absorbed by the plant and passed on to humans.

     But seeing how carefully kangkong is farmed at San Jose using unpolluted waters, allayed our fears. The rule of thumb for kangkong is, we should know the source of the vegetable.

Enterprise and Cooperative

      The profitability of an enterprise for a family is one thing, but the collective success of a community of families is another.

      While it is true that there are individually successful entrepreneurs, it is essential that this success be duplicated. Hence, there is need to organize small enterprises such as a cooperative to enable them to compete in the market. Economies of scale dictates that big and organized enterprises survive where unorganized and small businesses do not. And this is the reason why multinational businesses dominate the markets, forcing small ones to fold up. The idea of organizing a cooperative was brought to the attention of the barangay council of San Jose led by Reynaldo de Jesus.

      “We had a multipurpose Cooperative before,” the chairman confessed, “but it did not succeed.”  Since then no one thought of reviving it or putting up another.  We suggested that they get assistance from the Cooperative Development Authority. It was pointed out new thrusts in cooperatives development are supported both government and private sectors. Cited were successful ones locally and abroad, such as the multipurpose cooperative of Nagpandayan, Guimba, Nueva Ecija. This cooperative was able to generate an asset base of more than P100 million (US$ 2 million) in ten years of continuous operation. Its membership grew from 30 to 300 during the same period.

      Tagudin Credit Cooperative in Ilocos Sur is another success story. The same is true for Lucban Cooperative in Bay, Laguna.  Just to illustrate the size of a cooperative, compared to a corporation; Swiss Air, one of the largest airlines in the world, is a cooperative.
Small is Beautiful
      We have no biases against big business.  But we have learned from experience how difficult it is to manage a big one.  As gleamed from Schumacher’s book, “Small is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered,” he pointed out that progress has a limit, and that bigness alone is not a guarantee of dominance and stability. We know about stories of how giant corporations met their doom. The latest is the US-based giant corporation, ENRON, which toppled like a domino. Small enterprises on the other hand, are more resilient in weathering socio-economic storms, which explains the book’s title. This award-winning book won the author the title, “Hero for the Planet Earth,” given by Time Magazine. Small farm businesses tend to be more environment friendly, if they are conscious of wanting to be sustained in their surroundings.

 Manila Market and the Concept of a Greenbelt
      Also pointed out was the advantage of being near a big market.  With Metro Manila’s population of more than eight million people, neighboring provinces, which include Pampanga are lucky, indeed.  They form a “green belt” of the metropolis. The zones, CAMANAVA (Caloocan, Malabon, Navotas, and Valenzuela) and CALABAR (Cavite, Laguna. Batangas, and Rizal) are based on the concept of providing a peripheral source of goods and services for the densely populated metropolis.  The stimulus of a good market enhances the profitability of trade and commerce.

      The last thought that came was to hope that the success of these model enterprises could be translated into better health and nutrition, for all the people. After all, what justifications can a state give for having a good GNP (Gross National Product) but poor HDI (Human Development Index)?


      The Gross National Product can be raised to as much 10 percent, a very high estimate for the Philippines.  (Our projection is only three percent this year, compared to Vietnam’s seven percent.)  But what equally matters is that increasing or having a desirable GNP should be accompanied by just as desirable a Human Development Index. 

      HDI is measured in terms of education, health, employment, and literacy of the people, including mortality, morbidity and malnutrition of infants and children. Therefore, if the aggregate rates of return for services and manufacturing and agriculture are high, how come there are so many poor people in the Philippines?

      Having said goodbye to Brigida and Mang Ben, the sampaguita and kangkong entrepreneurs, we wished for them that their efforts serve as a catalyst for the development of their community. We hoped that they continue to combine both good GNP and HDI in that barangay, a microcosm of a nation.

      On our way back to Manila, the author’s thoughts traced back the potential flow of goods and services coming from the barangay to the enormous Manila market. Barangay San Jose, so with many similar villages in the provinces nearby, are indeed living on a gold mine, one that is waiting to be tapped. ~

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