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A statistics major, Leticia Subang spent the first 10 years of her professional career as an economic reporter covering for the Philippines' leading business paper. She later opted to become a free lance writer while working for her Masters Degree in Development Management. In the next ten years, she worked for a number of leading government agencies - the National Power Corporation, Public Estates Authority, Departments of Trade and Industry, Agriculture, Labor and Employment, and Energy.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Poverty-free zones in Southern Leyte

Creating other sources of income for farmers

MAASIN, SOUTHERN LEYTE – Like many other farmers in her neighborhood, Virgie Duenas, resident of the upland village of Hantag in Maasin, Southern Leyte, knew she cannot rely on a single crop. She must diversify her sources of income in order to shield her family from price fluctuations that normally characterize most agricultural products.

Thus, when Virgie and other Hantag residents were given the opportunity to develop abaca-based products, the Hantag farmers immediately took time out to learn the trade through the basic skills training and upgrading programs conducted by the Departments of Trade and Industry (DTI) and Labor and Employment (DOLE).

Today, more than 100 members of the Hantag Farmers Multi Purpose Cooperative Inc. (HAFAMCI) are earning additional income by producing tinagak (continuous spooled abaca fiber) and sinamay (hand woven cloth out of tinagak) which they now sell to an exporter based in Manila. Japanese International Cooperation Agency consultant Yasushi Fukushima, who was involved in the project, had twice ordered sinamay bags for souvenirs and promotional items in Japan.

In Laboon, a village adjacent to Hantag, Estrellita Ortega together with 25 others are earning additional income from yet another craft – pottery, which is now a thriving enterprise. Ortega is the production manager of the Laboon Farmers Multipurpose Cooperative Inc.

These two villages are among the 21 depressed communities in various regions of the country that have been identified as pilot areas for the Department of Labor and Employment’s Poverty-Free Zone (PFZ) program.

The residents were organized into cooperatives, guided in identifying viable livelihood projects, given skills training, and assisted in acquiring production equipment such as hand looms, in the case of the Hantag weavers and kneading machines, mechanical dryer, blunger, potters wheel, kiln and molders, in the case of the Laboon potters.

Various government agencies and private sector partners are helping the beneficiaries nurture their chosen enterprises – cassava and camote processing in the Cordillera Autonomous Region; soft broom and other tiger grass products in Burgos, La Union; seaweeds processing for the fishermen in Tibungco, Davao City; goat dairy production for the farmers in Malanang, Opol Misamis Oriental; bamboo furniture and other products for the craftsmen in Guimaras, Iloilo and Nasugbu, Batangas; and integrated fruit and vegetable processing in Morong, Bataan.

In Maasin, the two PFZ projects were implemented using the “convergence approach,” a one-day planning and pledging session with various social partners and stakeholders. “This ensured a wholistic and focused delivery of programs and services to Barangays Hantag and Laboon, thus, creating a significant impact on the lives to the beneficiaries and on the community,” said Fe Norma D. Valuis, supervising labor and employment officer and PFZ Program Manager of DOLE-Region 8.

The pledges were translated into a Memorandum of Agreement which was signed by the heads of DOLE-Region 8 and the different stakeholders. These include national agencies like DTI, Departments of Land Reform, Science and Techbology, and Education; Philippine Information Agency, Fiber Industry Development Authority (FIDA), TESDA, Philippine Coconut Authority. Local government units and agencies participated, among them the Provincial of Southern Leyte and City of Maasin; the Offices of City Agricultural Services, Provincial Agriculture, City Social Welfare and Development Office, City Health, and DILG-City Office; and PNP’s Maasin Police Station and Southern Leyte Provincial Office. Civic organizations and the media – like FOBI-World Vision, Diocesan Social Action Center of Maasin, Southern Leyte Chamber of Commerce, and DYDM-AM Radio Station – also pitched in.

In the case of Hantag and Laboon, productivity programs were introduced by the Regional Tripartite Wages and Productivity Board, one of DOLE’s attached agencies, and DTI’s Southern Leyte Provincial Office.

Abaca weavers of Hantag

To ensure a steady supply of raw materials and project sustainability, the FIDA and the Maasin City Agriculture Office taught the abaca farmers how to cultivate the suitable variety (locally called laylay).

Over 200 hectares in Hantag and nearby barangays like Malapoc Sur, Malapoc Norte, Bactul I and II and Matin-ao had been planted with laylay abaca as farmers learned to control diseases such as the bunchy top and abaca mosaic virus that threaten their crop. The provincial government of Southern Leyte and the city government of Maasin are currently underking some measures to protect the abaca industry by controlling these diseases.

HAFAMCI was organized in 1991 by 22 members who contributed P100 each, selling among themselves their own produce like camote and salabat extracted from ginger. Today, the cooperative has over P300,000 in share capital from its members.

HAFAMCI’s over 100 weavers can now produce a total of 2,800 meters of sinamay every month which the cooperative buys at P36 per meter. The weavers’ monthly aggregate output is valued at about P100,800, a substantial regular cash inflow into this rural community. Encouraged by the experience of the Hantag weavers, residents of the nearby barangay have also organized themselves in Malapok Sur Tinagak and Sinamay Workers Association.

It is a labor intensive activity and almost all of the family members are involved as the tasks – of connecting the abaca fiber into continuous spools (tagak) and weaving these into sinamay – can be done at home.

The 100 steel-framed handlooms were fabricated in Maasin and given to the weavers – 50 in Hantag, 30 in Malapoc Sur and 20 in Laboon – as a grant. “We monitor their output, otherwise the looms will be given to somebody else who could make productive use of it,” Valuis said.

Wala nay lakwatsa ang mga bata kay hasta sila naga-habol na para naa silay balon sa eskwelahan ug ipalit ug bag-ong sinina,” said Genera Pia, chairman of the newly organized Malapok Sur cooperative which has 30 weavers and 16 tinagak makers. (Even the children are weaving so they will have some money for their school allowance and even buy a new dress.)

Luis Grullo, HAFAMCI cooperative chairman, is responsible for sourcing the abaca fiber (or eskujedo) and tinagak the weavers need. Grullo’s wife does not weave because of poor eyesight but she makes tinagak which the cooperative buys at P280 a kilo.

Skilled weaver Anastasia Aquino, who weaves in between farm and household chores, produces at least 25 meters of sinamay out of 1.6 kilos of tinagak each week. With her additional income of P452 a week from weaving, Anastacia had been able to send her children to school, six of whom are in high school and one in college.

Meanwhile, less experienced weavers produce at least 50 meters a month. It is something that they can do anytime, especially at midday when it is too hot to work in the farm, the weavers added.

For barangay secretary Virginia Malasaga, weaving enables her to earn extra money to augment the earnings of her husband who drives a motorcycle (locally referred as habal-habal), the only mode of transport through the bumpy roads that connect their upland barangay with Maasin.

HAFAMCI treasurer Erlinda Calban, whose husband died late last year, has been able to cope with the loneliness by keeping herself busy. With the help of her only child, she weaves, operates a sari-sari store and raises hogs to augment the income derived from copra, the price of which is constantly fluctuating.

A widow like Erlina, Margarita Nacaytuna has also been able to augment her income through weaving and to support her family of 12 which now includes three grandchildren and her elderly mother. Two of her daughters help weave sinamay while her mother makes tinagak. Margarita has taken over Virgie Duenas work as the cooperative’s production manager.

Meanwhile, Virgie, who is now one of HAFAMCI’s board of directors, is glad her daughter, who graduated from St. Joseph College in Maasin has found a job in Manila. Her husband is sick and can no longer work in the farm, she said. The two looms at home are used alternately by her two daughters and her husband, who are among the fastest weavers in Hantag. And Virgie is often tapped by the Department of Trade and Industry to train weavers in the region. With the extra income she derives from weaving, she had been able to buy appliances on installment, Virgie said.

Potters of Laboon

When the farmers of Laboon decided to go into the pottery venture, various agencies pledged to assist the group: the barangay agreed to set aside a parcel of land to be the site for the production center which was built through contributions from the Maasin City government, DOLE and equity from the cooperative.

DTI conducted a 10-day skills training on decorative ceramic and artwares production including the basic hands-on training on how to build and operate a kiln, added Susana Capa, chairman of the Laboon Farmers Multi-Purpose Cooperative Inc.

“The cooperatives benefited a lot from technical assistance given by Nick Cinco of DTI-Maasin, thus ensuring the projects were going smoothly,” said Valuis. Mario Tictic, the DOLE Provicial Extension Officer for Southern, Leyte, assisted in linking the cooperatives with concerned agencies and institutions for support and assistance.

Today, the 25 workers involved in the project are producing a wide range of pottery items – from simple clay dishes that poultry raisers use as feed containers to large decorative jars.

They have worked out a detailed costing for each stage of the production process – clay is bought at P1 per sack, laborers gathering the clay are paid P3 per sack for digging and P2 per sack for hauling. The potters are paid per piece, the rate of which depends on the intricacy of the item – P1 for the clay dish and P15 for a decorative jar.

Milagros Capistrano, the cooperative’s business manager, estimated that their two potters, who alternately work on potter’s wheeled jars and other ceramic items earn between P1,000 to P2,000 a month. The women handle the slip casting, where earthenwares are produced using molds made of plaster of Paris.

The clay pots, dishes and jars are then placed in the kiln for firing for about eight hours. For fuel, they use dried coconut fronds (locally called palwa) for pre-heating, which takes about five hours and coconut shell and firewood for the succeeding three-hour rapid firing. These are left to cool off for several hours before the items are taken out of the kiln.

The decorative jars are sanded for which the laborers are paid P3 a piece and another P2 for varnishing. A worker could earn P10 a piece for sanding large decorative jars and varnishing them with antique finish.

At this point, the products are ready to be brought to nearby trading towns like Sogod, Baybay and Hilongos where the decorative jars could be sold at P120 a piece. Recently, DOLE donated to the cooperative a vehicle to enable them to transport their products to these trading centers. The cooperative sets aside 20% of their gross sales to compensate the 4-woman team in charge of the daily production and business operations.

Depending on the orders they get, the cooperative earns between P6,000 to P9,000 a month, said sales clerk Liza Ortega. Aside from the potter business, many of the members are also engaged in tinagak and sinamay weaving just like their Hantag neighbors.

For the past several years, the two cooperatives were occupying a small space in their respective barangay halls as their temporary offices. Recently, HAFAMCI acquired a lot and built a new office, funded partly by donations from Governor Rosette Lerias, Mayor Damian Mercado and members’ contributions. It was inaugurated last December 2004. Beside its office is a rice mill has been in operation since February 2005, a support project undertaken through a P100,000.00 funding assistance from DOLE’s PRESEED program.

On the other hand, LAFAMCI has also transferred to a new location where they now hold office and operate a commodity store.

Encouraged by the two successful projects in Maasin, DOLE-Region 8 is now identifying other livelihood projects in Samar where the poverty incidence is also high, said Valuis of DOLE-Region 8.

(Note: A shortened version of this piece was published in the July 31, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Business Section B-10)

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