Friday, August 29, 2014

Sampaguita - Pride of Filipinos

National Flower of the Philippines. 
Sampaguita is ever present on special occasions such as wedding and graduation.  Even in ordinary times sampaguita is used in many ways, such as pendant on the rear mirror of a car or jeep, lei for Santo Niño, brooch, necklace, headdress, and the like.  
Dr Abe V Rotor
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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 high to form a continuous hedge that makes harvesting easier. It also reminds one of vineyards in Europe and California where grapes are grown along the shape and 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 of 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 remarked.  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. 

Brigida S. Batac and sister, Cristina (2nd and 3rd, respectively) demonstrate to their guests the making of sampaguita leis and garlands 

Sampaguita Garlands

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

The lesson to be learned is that production, processing and marketing must be integrated under one roof, with the entrepreneur and members of his or her 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  in Manila -
Quiapo, Divisoria, Balintawak Caloocan, and Malolos in Bulacan. These centers 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 are greeted at the airport, when we pray to Santo Niño. 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. 

Sampaguita has made lasting impressions in the lives of Filipinos. It draws out romantic feelings like in this verse.

“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. 

We tried out hands stringing sampaguita buds, forming the familiar leis and garlands. It is not an easy job. It takes a lot of skill, and speed to catch 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.

Selling sampaguita leis on the sidewalk. 

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 who would like to put up a sampaguita business. 

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

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

  • 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.

  • 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 in flower arrangement. From the results of pilot testing, select those flowers which are adaptable and profitable.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The production of sampaguita for perfumes, car fresheners or room deodorizers is another challenge for cottage industrialists. 
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 bigger market. Economies of scale dictates that big and organized enterprises survive where unorganized and small businesses may not. And this is the reason why multinational businesses dominate the markets, forcing small ones to fold up.

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 EC 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. Small enterprises 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 sustainable productivity concept.

The last thought that came was to hope that the success of these model enterprises could be translated into better health and nutrition of 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 five 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 Human Development Index, and lately Gross National Happiness (GNH) which is being pioneered by Nepal as a measure of national progress.

HDI is measured in terms of education, health, employment, and literacy of the people, including rates of mortality, morbidity and malnutrition of infants and children. Therefore, if the aggregate rates of return for services and manufacturing and agriculture are high, then there would be less poor people, and the standard of living improved.

Having said goodbye to the Brigida family, we wished them that their efforts continue to serve as a catalyst in the development of their community and make their barangay a microcosm of a progressive and happy nation. ~

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