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2009 WINNERS

AGRICULTURE PHOTO OF THE YEAR

"SPICE SCARECROW"
EDGARDO “EV” ESPIRITU
BANDERA/THE PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER

TOBACCO PHOTO OF THE YEAR

"AMONG THE BEST"
ANDY ZAPATA
THE PHILIPPINES STAR
AGRICULTURE STORY OF THE YEAR
"A HOUSING MATERIAL MADE FROM CHICKEN FEATHERS"
BY: MELPHA ABELLO
MANILA BULLETIN
A forestry expert has found that chicken feathers can be recycled into a low-cost, lightweight and decay-resistant composite panel for use as building material for housing and construction.
He is Dr. Menandro Acda, a professor in the University of the Philippines Los Banos College of Forestry and Natural Resources where he has been working on his project called “Recycling Waste Chicken Feathers for Low-cost Building Material” since last year.
 
FULL STORY
2009 AGRICULTURE STORY OF THE YEAR
"A Housing Material Made from Chicken Feathers"
By Melpha Abello
Manila Bulletin



A forestry expert has found that chicken feathers can be recycled into a low-cost, lightweight and decay-resistant composite panel for use as building material for housing and construction.

He is Dr. Menandro Acda, a professor in the University of the Philippines Los Banos College of Forestry and Natural Resources where he has been working on his project called “Recycling Waste Chicken Feathers for Low-cost Building Material” since last year. This project was one of the 2007 grantees under the Ford Conservation & Environmental Grants Program.

Rick Baker, Ford Group Philippines president, said in a recent a visit to Dr. Acda’s laboratory in UPLB, that Ford is proud to be involved in such an exciting and ecologically relevant project. “Our support for this endeavor underscores our commitment to finding sustainable solutions in protecting and maintaining our environment. Our participation does not end at financial support. We actively involve ourselves in ensuring the success of these worthy projects,” he added.

Dr. Acda said that his project aims to resolve the problem on the disposal of waste chicken feathers by recycling them into affordable construction material. “There are 40 million chickens slaughtered in Philippines annually,” says Dr. Acda. He said that by weight, six percent of these are composed of feathers alone. This generates millions of kilos of feathers which cause disposal problems.

He added that traditional methods of disposal such as burying in landfills, incineration, and milling the feathers into low-cost animal feeds were proven to be expensive and harmful to the environment.

He also cited other potential commercial applications of chicken feathers for the manufacture of plastics, textiles, papers and microchips. However, these only require feathers in less quantity thereby barely reducing the total volume of feathers generated.

By utilizing the feathers as a component of medium-density fiberboard (MDF), Dr. Acda sees an alternative solution that will not only reduce the volume of waste feathers but also create a low-cost product with valuable use.

Thus, Dr. Acda and his laboratory staff have fabricated a cement-bonded chicken feather composite panel, which he claims to have its own advantages over other MDF in the market in terms of cost, resistance to decay and termite attack, and environmental impact.

He said that most commercial fiberboards use wood fiber composite that are susceptible to decay and insect attack. He said that most of these use synthetic glue as binder which is not environment-friendly. On the other hand, the cement-bonded board they have developed is more resistant to decay and termite attack due to the keratin found in the feathers.

“It would be cheaper than wood cement-bonded board because chicken feathers are available almost for free,” says Dr. Acda, adding that commercial poultry raisers would surely be more than willing to give away their waste chicken feathers to cut expenses on disposal.

In their experiment, Dr. Acda gathered waste chicken feathers from a food company’s chicken processing plant in Batangas. The feathers were washed with detergent and bleached overnight to disinfect and remove dirt. After rinsing with water the next morning, the feathers were dried under the sun for three days.

The feathers were cut to remove the quill (the hard middle part of the feather), and then ground to powdered form.

Using various proportions, Dr. Acda mixed the ground feathers with cement, adding water and commercial plasticiser. The mixture was put into a molder, board-pressed, and then cured for four weeks. A 10” x 10” panel, he says, would need 300 grams to 400 grams of feathers.

Aside from powdered feathers, Dr. Acda has also considered using cut feathers with quill to test its effect on the strength of the material. For the same purpose, he also came up with a formulation reinforced with feather fibers.

Dr. Acda said that they are now in the process of testing their formulations, having achieved target properties. A few more tests are needed to determine the commercially viability of the finished product.

Ford Group Philippines said that this is the second project of Dr. Acda being supported by Ford Conservation and Environmental Grants Program. In 2006, Dr. Acda was also a Ford Ecogrant recipient for his project called “Lahar Barrier for Termite Control”, which is now being showcased within the premises of UPLB CFNR.

Launched in the Philippines in 2000, the Ford Ecogrants Program responds to Ford’s mission of creating and innovating sustainable solutions which dramatically reduce environmental impacts. Since then, Ford Group Philippines has extended over P18 million funding assistance to 62 projects nationwide.
TOBACCO STORY OF THE YEAR
"SOMETHING NEW IN VIRGINIA TOBACCO"
BY: ZAC SARIAN
MANILA BULLETIN
Don’t look now, but a number of things are happening to improve the income of Virginia tobacco farmers not only in the Ilocos but also elsewhere. One is the dissemination of two new varieties that produce higher-priced flue-cured leaves, are higher-yielding and are also more resistant to pests and diseases.
FULL STORY
2009 TOBACCO STORY OF THE YEAR
"Something new in Virginia tobacco"
By Zac Sarian
Manila Bulletin



Don’t look now, but a number of things are happening to improve the income of Virginia tobacco farmers not only in the Ilocos but also elsewhere. One is the dissemination of two new varieties that produce higher-priced flue-cured leaves, are higher-yielding and are also more resistant to pests and diseases.

Another development is an innovation in the flue-curing barn that uses strong carton as siding in the upper portion instead of the more expensive materials.

A third technology is the use of the bio-organic fertilizer Durabloom in combination with special formulations of chemical fertilizers which results in bigger and thicker leaves.



The New Varieties

One of the planters of the new varieties, NC2326 and K326, is Victor Valledor of Brgy. Lapting, San Juan, Ilocos Sur. He is an agriculturist of the National Tobacco Administration who is also planting Virginia tobacco in his own farm. He said that the two new varieties were introduced in San Juan in 2002. They are also known as “Topped Tobacco”. That is because when the NC2326 has produced 14 leaves, it is detopped. In the case of K326, it is detopped when it has produced 18 to 20 leaves. The purpose is to make the leaves thicker, bigger and with puckered appearance. The plants also have leaves with higher nicotine content.

Valledor explained that cigarette manufacturers prefer the leaves with higher nicotine content because they produce the aroma desired by smokers and they also have a better burning quality. One more thing, the flue-cured leaves of the two new varieties command a higher price than the ordinary varieties. The first class leaves are currently sold at P91 per kilo whereas the first class of the old varieties fetch only P77 per kilo.

Moreover, about 70 percent of the flue-cured leaves of the new varieties are of the high quality that fetch P91 per kilo; 20 percent at P77 per kilo and only 10 percent, the lowest quality, at P60 per kilo. The percentage of high quality leaves is much higher than that of the old varieties.

The two new varieties also produce higher yields than the traditional ones. They usually yield 1.8 to 2.4 tons per hectare compared to the 1.5 tons produced by the old varieties. The yield is higher and the price is also higher.



The Improved Flue-Curing Barn

The innovated flue-curing barn has its own advantages. Because it uses durable carton for its sidings in the upper portion of the structure, one unit that can take care of curing the harvest from one hectare costs only about P40,000. On the other hand, if the usual materials are used, the cost could be more than P54,000.

Another innovation in the barn is that the firing pit is dug one meter below the surface of the ground. It is the same system used in the traditional way of cooking muscovado sugar in the Ilocos. Besides being cheaper to construct, it has another advantage in that it can also effectively use fuel other than wood from the forest. Corn cobs, corn stover and anything that will burn can be used as fuel. That is possible because of the firing pit that is dug one meter below the surface of the ground. In the case of the old flue-curing barn, the fuel wood is entered above the surface of the ground.



Bio-organic Fertilizer

The use of Durabloom, a processed bio-organic fertilizer inoculated with enzymes and beneficial microorganisms, also offers significant benefits, according to Valledor. He has observed that the leaves of his tobacco plants fertilized with Durabloom have a longer ripening period. For instance, those fertilized with chemical fertilizers alone ripen in 56 days from planting. On the other hand, those fertilized with Durabloom ripen 65 days after planting. This is an advantage because leaves that ripen longer become thicker and heavier and also have better curing quality. The leaves are orange in color and contain higher nicotine sought by cigarette manufacturers. Also, soil fertilized with the organic fertilizer retains moisture longer, hence frequent irrigation may not be needed.

Valledor applied 15 bags of Durabloom bio-organic fertilizer per hectare before planting the seedlings in the field. Then it was followed by a side-dressing of a mixture of chemical fertilizers 21 days after transplanting. Valledor combined 4 bags of potassium nitrate (13-0-46), 2 bags of sulfate of potash (0-0-60) and 1 bag of ammonium sulfate (21-0-0). The chemical fertilizer application was followed by hilling-up and furrow irrigation.



Tobacco Dust for Fishponds

Cigarettes are not the only commercial product from tobacco. Turning the leaves and other parts of the tobacco plant into dust or powder has a big commercial potential. The dust is used to treat fishponds so as to eliminate predators like snails and other shells that are detrimental to the growth of stocked fish like tilapia, bangus, pangasius and other species.

Today, many fishpond owners use imported tea seed from China to eliminate predators in their ponds. Tobacco dust is just as effective and could be cheaper. The thing is that tobacco dust should be made available to the fish farmers. This is one investment opportunity for local entrepreneurs.
BEST AGRICULTURE TV PROGRAM/SEGMENT
“CORN” (CRAFTS FROM CORN HUSKS)
BY: INEZ MAGBUAL
IBC 13
BEST AGRICULTURE RADIO PROGRAM/SEGMENT
“CARERA’S FARM: BIG TIME AT 200”
BY: SALVADOR CRUZANA JR.
DZLL NAGA
BEST AGRICULTURE NEWS STORY (NATIONAL)
"MANGO EXPORTS REEL FROM PESTICIDE CURBS"
BY: NEIL JEROME MORALES
BUSINESS WORLD
Strict pesticide residue limits set by Japan have aggravated the problem facing fresh mango exports caused by low production due to weather disturbance, industry and government officials have said.

"The export of Philippine mangoes is seriously affected by stricter environmental and health regulations imposed by Japan, one of the major Philippine export markets," said Roberto C.
FULL STORY
2009 BEST AGRICULTURE NEWS STORY - NATIONAL
"Mango exports reel from pesticide curbs"
By Neil Jerome Morales
Business World



Strict pesticide residue limits set by Japan have aggravated the problem facing fresh mango exports caused by low production due to weather disturbance, industry and government officials have said.

"The export of Philippine mangoes is seriously affected by stricter environmental and health regulations imposed by Japan, one of the major Philippine export markets," said Roberto C. Amores, president of the Philippine Food Processors and Exporters Organization, Inc. and the Philippine Mango Exporters Foundation, Inc., in an e-mail the other day. "The recent cases of agricultural chemical residue detections on Philippine mangoes which were sent back will constrict the export growth of this product."

In 2006, the Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW) imposed a maximum residue level (MRL) of 0.05 parts per million for chlorpyrifos and cypermethrine, which are active ingredients in insecticides, in all mango shipments to Japan. The former MRL for these chemicals was 0.5 ppm, Mr. Amores said.
"Regrettably, the Philippine government authorities did not file any comment on these MRLs prescribed by Japan for mangoes, unlike other foreign countries which submitted proper data for the revisions of MRLs," he said.

For instance, the "banana export industry had an MRL of 3.0 ppm for chlorpyrifos because multinational companies immediately submitted to Japan MHLW necessary data such as toxicity and residue data when the MRL was established," he explained.

Fresh mango exports to Japan, excluding Okinawa, dropped 20% from 9,955.802 MT in 2004 to 7,964.421 MT in 2005, and by a smaller 18% to 6,516.456 MT in 2006, before snapping back to a bigger 20.35% drop to 5,190.406 MT in 2007, Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (BAS) data show.

Fresh mango export earnings dropped to $12.652 million last year from $13.509 million in 2006, $15.497 million in 2005 and $17.917 in 2006.

Mr. Amores said that "our mango export to Japan is threatened to extinction as it has become extremely difficult to source mangoes that are within the present MRLs of 0.05 ppm."

In the first quarter of the year, 21.89%, or 2,503.340 metric tons, worth $934,178, of the total 11,433.934 MT ($2.21 million) fresh mango exports were shipped to Japan, BAS data showed.

Last year, 19.71% or 5,190.406 MT, valued at $12.625 million, of the total 26,337.819 MT fresh mango exports went to Japan.

The same data showed total fresh and processed mango exports in the first quarter this year stood at 16,879 metric tons worth $2.87 million.

"Because of the latest cases of detections, Philippine mango exports to Japan are subjected to mandatory inspection for pesticide residues prior to entry," Mr. Amores added.

Inspection costs are either shouldered by exporters or are passed on to Japanese consumers, which increase mango prices, Mr. Amores added.

"Our exports to Japan have dropped because we have less mango produce due to typhoons and the La Nina earlier this year," Rene Rafael C. Espino, director of the Agriculture department's High Value Commercial Crops Program, said in a recent phone interview.

Mango production dropped by 14.5% to 780,540 MT in the first half from 912,590 MT in the same period last year, data of the BAS show.
BEST AGRICULTURE NEWS STORY (REGIONAL)
"MOST OUTSTANDING FARMER PRACTICES INDIGENOUS FARMING"
BY: FRANCIS MARTIN
HIGH PLAINS JOURNAL
BONTOC, Mt. Province - Indigenous farming practices, sustained environmental protection, balanced utilization of natural resources, involvement in various community activities, are some of the traits that made Mrs. Caroline Baybay as the 2009’s Most Outstanding Farmer of Mt.
FULL STORY
2009 BEST AGRICULTURE NEWS STORY - REGIONAL
"Most outstanding farmer practices indigenous farming"
By Francis Martin
High Plains Journal



BONTOC, Mt. Province - Indigenous farming practices, sustained environmental protection, balanced utilization of natural resources, involvement in various community activities, are some of the traits that made Mrs. Caroline Baybay as the 2009’s Most Outstanding Farmer of Mt. Province.

Baybay, a mother of six from barangay Ankileng, Sagada, proved once more that women can be at par with the men. Walking through the rice paddies on her way to school as a young lass, savoring the sweet aroma of ripe mountain rice mixed with the pine scent and feel the cool wind from the mountainside has inspired Caroline to become a farmer.

Caroline and her husband turned the land she inherited from her parents into a diversified farm using indigenous farming methods. Within the farm, she made a fish pond, a vegetable garden, an orchard and a piggery.

Mrs. Baybay learned the art of farming from her parents. In her younger years to her adulthood, she developed her skills on the indigenous way of tilling the field while preserving and protecting the environment.

Indigenous agricultural practice varies in the Cordillera, but when it comes to preservation and protection of environment, primarily the water source, all the provinces have one goal, that is to maintain a “muyong” of man-made forest which holds water to irrigate the farms.

Usually, some areas were transformed into a ricefield or vegetable garden but leaving a wider array of pine and other kinds of trees to make sure that an ample supply of water is reserved in the forest.

With her experiences in farming, Caroline said that modern technology which include machineries and chemicals being utilized in the lowland increase farm yields, this is not applicable in the hinterlands of Sagada.

Modern farm inputs are welcome, but natural way of farming is mostly adapted by farmers. These include animal wastes and rice straw mixed with the soil which is left for a couple of days underwater until rotten before it is planted with rice seedling. This will preserve the natural fertility of the soil, Baybay said.

We also practice natural composting technology in the community to produce organic fertilizer, that’s why we seldom buy commercial fertilizers for our plants as we start producing organic vegetables for a healthier lifestyle, she explained.

Natural pesticides such as the indigenous wild leaves found in the community are utilized to protect the plants from pests rather than using chemical pesticides that are harmful to human and animals.

Some farmers have also incorporated tilapia farming with rice known as the “rice-fish culture” introduced by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resource (BFAR) in the province.

The technology has expanded in the whole municipality and in the province. This has created additional income to the farmers and an instant food supplier from the backyard aside from their swine and poultry.

Her persistent attitude towards farming endeavor has led her to become the 2009’s most outstanding farmer in Mt. Province. Besting other nominees, the achievement of Caroline shows that Filipino women can work hand-in-hand with the government for social and economic development in the countryside.
BEST AGRICULTURE FEATURE STORY (NATIONAL)
"WHEN FISH CATCH A COLD, THE REST OF THE WORLD SNEEZES"
BY: MIKO JASMINE MOJICA
BUSINESS MIRROR
In less than four months this year, two tragedies swept through Pangasinan's bangus (milkfish) sanctuaries - the wrath of Typhoon Cosme in June which damaged 80 out of 300 fish cages in Sual town, and the mysterious slashing of six fish cages in the same town in September.
FULL STORY
2009 BEST AGRICULTURE FEATURE STORY - NATIONAL
"When fish catch a cold, the rest of the world sneezes"
By Miko Jasmine Mojica
Business Mirror



In less than four months this year, two tragedies swept through Pangasinan's bangus (milkfish) sanctuaries - the wrath of Typhoon Cosme in June which damaged 80 out of 300 fish cages in Sual town, and the mysterious slashing of six fish cages in the same town in September.

The impact of these two misfortunes was seen and felt immediately, causing the selling price of bangus to record lows and record loss for fish-cage operators. Come to think of it, we are talking about a popularly cultured fish where shelter and food are provided, and its reproduction well attended by humans. But have we seriously given a thought about mass extinction of fish species from our marine, estuarine (fresh and salt water mix), and freshwater reserves?

Reports from numerous international organizations showed that over the past 50 years, bodies of water all over the world have been heating up because of global warming. Most of these reports have similar findings: even the slightest rise in water temperature could have severe effects on fish and aquatic ecosystems, and ultimately on the global food supply and economic stability.



Looking through the fish eyes

In July 2005, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) released the report, Are we putting our fish in hot water?, which explains the effects of climate change on fisheries worldwide. The report presents a comprehensible account of the plight of fish as they are increasingly threatened by global warming. It avers that fish are more sensitive to temperature than other animals and they cannot survive in temperatures out of the range that they prefer or have been used to.

The metabolism of fish, the report points out, slows down when the water is too cold for them, making them sluggish. But as the water around them warms up, their metabolism speeds up, making them digest their food more rapidly, hence, they grow more quickly and have more energy to reproduce.

"But fish need more food and more oxygen to support this higher metabolism. Warmer fish tend to mature more quickly, but the cost of this speedy lifestyle is often a smaller body size. Ninety percent of aquatic animals like fish raised in warm water end up smaller than their peers raised at cooler temperatures. Many fish will also have less offspring as temperatures rise, and some may not be able to reproduce at all," the WWF report stated.

"Water may all look the same to us, but for fish, the world is made up of very distinct layers - each with its own temperature and supply of food and oxygen," the report added. According to WWF, as the water near the surface continues to heat up, it becomes lighter and makes the mixing with the cooler, denser layers of water below harder. Eventually, "as fish crowd into bottom refuges, competition for prey will intensify, and the stresses of low oxygen, low food supply, combined with an increase chance of disease transmission, will make fish more susceptible to disease."
The food chain effect

Unfortunately, the distress of fish is felt by every living thing that is directly or indirectly affected by its troubles. In the Gulf of Alaska, where large glaciers are found, the fish are shifting to deeper waters. The WWF recounted that when fish in the Gulf moved deep in 1993, about 120,000 seabirds starved to death, most likely because they could not dive deep enough to catch their relocated prey.

"Billions of people throughout the world rely on fish as a primary source of protein, particularly in developing countries with rapidly expanding populations," the WWF said. In their report, the WWF lamented the fact that though the declining numbers of fish could have a devastating impact on humans both for their health and business, a bigger danger is in store for other wildlife. They cited an 18-year study in Ghana showed that during the years when fish supply was low, sales of meat from a variety of wild animals soared, poaching increased, and 41 species of wild, terrestrial mammals experienced sharp population declines.



Passing on the poison

The WWF report likewise stated that warm water increases the toxicity of pollutants. Thus, as fish pump more water through their gills to meet increased metabolic needs, they also collect more pollutants. The terrifying findings of WWF is that while warmer fish can flush out the extra load of some types of toxins, fish in warmer water accumulate mercury more rapidly even if only small amounts are present.

"Mercury poisoning is already a major economic problem for fisheries in Canada, Japan, and Scandinavia, and poses a significant public health risk. A recent study of 1,700 American women of childbearing age found that blood mercury concentrations were seven times higher in women who ate fish more than twice a week, and because mercury is transferred directly to the fetus during pregnancy, 300,000 babies born each year in the US alone may be exposed to levels of mercury high enough to harm their neurological development," said WWF.

Recently, tuna producers in the Philippines expressed their anxiety over the dwindling tuna catches over the past few years. According to Mike Lamberte, Fish Port Authority manager in General Santos City, tuna catch in the city has dropped by as much as 34 percent from January to June compared to the same period last year. The tuna industry is considered one of the few bright sectors in our economy and such incidence is bad news for our country. Reports of major dailies said that in 2007, industry players blamed rising global temperature as one of the primary causes of reduced catch. This year, they put the blame squarely on high fuel costs.

Yet it is interesting to note an observation echoed by Dr. Mina T. Gabor, president of the Small and Medium Business Development Foundation, Inc. (PHILSMED) and former Tourism Secretary when she served as one of the resource persons in the technology forum organized by the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) in 2006, and she talked about the prospects of agribusiness in the country. According to her, the Japanese, who import most of Philippine fresh tuna, are becoming quite fastidious when it comes to buying our fish. Apparently, the Japanese are wary about the mercury content in our tuna. Having encountered that report from WWF, we could now relate to the troubles faced by the Americans about mercury poisoning from fish and any health risk we may incur from the exposure of fish to pollutants. Consequently, just by learning about the effects of climate change to the lowly fish, the interconnectivity of all living things on the planet we share and how even the seemingly mundane occurrence could affect everyone else is easier to understand now. But can we do anything about it?



Climate change overload

What is certain is that it's not only WWF that is raising the flag about climate change. One can easily access an abundance of reports and studies about the effects of climate change to fisheries. Some of these are reports from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the international marine watchdog group Reef Check, Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and the list goes on. In short, the world is now starting to take notice and take the cudgels for saving what we can still enjoy for now.

In the country, there is little literature available or accessible for everyone to peruse. Perhaps, we need to do some catching up on this since the forecast is that the Philippines is among the most vulnerable to the devastating effects of climate change. "The Philippines is not emitting a lot of carbon dioxide, but it's going to be the biggest victim of climate change," said Dr. Josefino Comiso, a Filipino senior scientist at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). He is also a contributing author to the report on climate change of Nobel winner Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change. He recently returned to Manila to share his knowledge with the academe under the DOST's "Balik-Scientist Program".

Comiso said that since the country is home to a high diversity of species, we are more vulnerable to the effects of temperature escalation. "In the Philippines, there's more diversity. If you lose 10 percent of them, we're talking of thousands of species," he said.

In a collaborative study by the University of California and WWF in 2005 on the Effects of global climate change on marine and estuarine fishes and fisheries, Roessig, et al. said that there is a need to research the physiology and ecology of marine and estuarine fishes, particularly in the tropics where comparatively little research has been conducted. They said that as a broader and deeper information base accumulates, researchers will be able to make more accurate predictions and forge relevant solutions. Now, that's a green light for our R&D.
BEST AGRICULTURE FEATURE STORY (REGIONAL)
"THE SCENT THAT HEALS (LEMONGRASS OIL PRODUCTION)"
BY: GLORIA TUAZON
CORDILLERA TODAY
Up in the chilly locale of Kabayan wafts a smell that caught me, flaring my nostrils like a horse testing the air on a windy day. The aroma was so distinct that the thought of rolling lemons entered my mind. I looked around and about but never asked anyway, just that lemons occupied my thoughts for the rest of the day.
FULL STORY
2009 BEST AGRICULTURE FEATURE STORY - REGIONAL
"The Scent that Heals (Lemongrass Oil Production)"
By Gloria Tuazon
Cordillera Today



Up in the chilly locale of Kabayan wafts a smell that caught me, flaring my nostrils like a horse testing the air on a windy day. The aroma was so distinct that the thought of rolling lemons entered my mind. I looked around and about but never asked anyway, just that lemons occupied my thoughts for the rest of the day. Then I totally forgot about it.

The next time I went to Kabayan a good lady gave me a gift. Just a tiny bottle with aromatic oil in it she says, good to massage tired muscles with at the end of the day. She asked me to unlid it and smell the oil, told me that even the scent could invigorate, so I did. And it was like déjà vu, the thought of rolling lemons came back. Sweet, tangy, yellow lemons rolling in slow motion coming to splash on icy cold water. Then my thoughts were rudely cut off by her last word, this thing, this cool, aromatic concoction was not of lemons but of grass. Grass? I asked. Yup, grass, lemongrass in particular. Green grass resembling cogon but shorter in blade span. How could a grass get to smell like lemons I argued ridiculously. But it does. With no knowledge up my sleeve to back a futile discussion I decided to research on it instead.

Lemongrass is a grass specie, a perennial and fast growing aromatic grass that has thin, long leaves extending to about 2 feet or more. It was originally cultivated in India and known there as “choomana poolu” and is usually used as medicine to help bring down high fevers and as treatment to some infectious illnesses. As it is the lemony scent is often used in perfumes and soaps and a very effective insect repellent too. It is also most often brewed in the Cordilleras as a tea beverage. Through experiments and tests, lemongrass oil is proven to be a great body revitalizer. It soothes most kinds of headaches too as it helps ease tensions. The oil mixed with the more solid virgin coconut oil is a good massage tonic, giving energy back to the muscles especially while recuperating from an illness. In matters of personal aesthetics, this oil is often used to clear up rather oily skin and acne growth as well as a help to cure athlete’s foot by correcting excessive perspiration. So much more uses are attributed to this lowly plant.

With all that in mind I came back to Kabayan. They led me downstairs to a backyard, makeshift laboratory cum factory. Waiting to explain is the fidgety, youngish barangay official with a ready smile, ready to pounce a joke or two whenever he gets the chance. So his name is Albert Paday Jr., and he started prattling how a bunch or should I say a mountain of those grass come about to produce a few drops of precious oil. There in front of us is a humungous stainless steel tank called an extractor, tightly sealed on top with a handle like a steering wheel. The tank was elevated to allow firewood to be pushed in under it, in turn to cook the “grass” with a tankful of water. It goes on to simmer in that pressurized container for about two hours or more in about 180 degrees celsius before the steam moves on to a smaller tank resembling a space capsule called the “condenser”, to produce the droplets of saturated, precious oil. From below at almost the bottom line of the tank protrudes a spout. It brings out the hot water that was first put in as coolant for condensing the steam. It is from these condensed steam that the oil travels then down to a collecting pail called a”separator”. From here one can watch the oil separate from the water by staying above it, as water is denser than oil and never mix. Each flows into separate containers. And so the birth of the lemongrass oil.

Lemongrass oil production is an industry that requires hardwork. Before one can even get an ounce of it, a hundred or more kilos of the grass has to be processed. Paday explained that in their production experience, the east Indian type or the citronella produces lesser than the west Indian or native kind. The production process does not happen often as they have to wait also for the collection of grass sold to them by the suppliers and growers. In Kabayan, the residents are encouraged to grow the grass and sold to this outfit, each one helping each other, providing a little income generation to sustain their usual industry. To date, a few hectares of land adjacent to the Tinongchol burial rock are planted with the aromatic grass, giving people a whiff of life whenever passing by the route. With hopes that this may someday grow to become a continuing industry, the task was undertaken as a pilot project of the Kabayan Women’s and farmers’ Development Association, Inc. They ventured in this in partnership with U Lagi and Grassroots Development Association and is being promoted by the local government of Kabayan.

Albert explained that it was a Japanese friend of the business owner who first introduced them to the idea. That a lot can be done with it if only with patience. The owners started out with some capital and hopes to improve their technical know how and facilities in the long run. So with a lot of patience, perseverance and “grass”, these venture could go a long way.
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