A group of women farmers in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato, weaves and sells uniquely Filipino handicrafts—bags, wallets, hats, baskets, food trays and lampshades—using the dried nito vine.
The craftsmanship of the rice and corn farmer-members of the Kestubong Women’s Association Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries (KeWARB) is now in the spotlight as their biodiversity-friendly livelihood receives a much-needed boost from the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).
DAR recently granted KeWARB funding for the construction of its processing center, which is expected to increase the income of the women farmers by helping them “process and add value to their products.”
“We want to raise the level of competency of the KeWARB women farmers from mere producers to processors of the raw farm products themselves,” said DAR Provincial Agrarian Reform Program Officer Evangeline Bueno in a statement.
KeWARB farmer-members use indigenous materials, such as forest vines, for their small but growing livelihood.
They themselves grow and harvest these materials, a sustainable practice that does not affect their environment, particularly the forest surroundings of Lake Sebu from which the town got its name, nor their natural resources or wildlife.
Big help to farmers, communities
Besides raising the endemic bamboo and rattan, farmers in Lake Sebu plant nito vine that they process and manufacture into handicrafts.
“This project is a big help to the farmers and nearby farm communities that depend on manufacturing products from [nito as their] source of livelihood,” Bueno said.
DAR Municipal Agrarian Reform Program Officer Frederick Pereyra and Municipal Agriculturist Zaldy A. Artacho led the groundbreaking rites for the construction of the center in Barangay Tasiman.
KeWARB is among the Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries (ARBs) organizations that utilize nito as raw material to produce its biodiversity-friendly products.
Nito, a vine species (Lygodium circinatum) from the fern family, commonly thrives in provinces where rain is evenly distributed throughout the year, such as Southern Tagalog and Mindanao.
Farmers in Oriental Mindoro, Marinduque and Romblon also produce various nito handicrafts. In Southern Tagalog, the indigenous peoples (IPs) of Mindoro are also known for their craftsmanship in using the indigenous material.
Profitable agricultural product
Nito is fast becoming an agricultural product of Lake Sebu farmers that provides them with income-generating activities.
The children and people of the community help KeWARB manufacture assorted handicraft products and sell these to different markets.
The KeWARB project is being implemented under the Village Level Farm-focused Enterprise Development, which aims to enhance the products of the ARBs using appropriate facilities and equipment applicable to the agri-business enterprise of the ARBs.
Under the project, the farmers will undergo seminars and training on nito cultivation, product development and business marketing to develop their farm enterprise and make their business operations profitable.
Kate S. Pagayon of the DAR Regional Information Office XII told the BusinessMirror via Facebook Messenger on June 24 that currently most nito supplies come from Sarangani province because harvesting from the natural environment of Lake Sebu is prohibited.
Lake Sebu is rich in natural resources and its people are naturally very protective of their place, which the travel guide book publisher Lonely Planet said is located in a “bowl of forests and mountains.”
“Nito harvesting is prohibited in Lake Sebu,” Pagayon said.
The supplier from Sarangani, however, has secured a permit to harvest from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
The use of nito, Pagayon said, has its advantage “because they say natural resource materials are ecofriendly.”
“Aside from nito, they also use bamboo and rattan that are abundant in the area compared to other raw materials like plastic,” Pagayon said.
Targeting the export market
KeWARB products are made currently for the local market “only when there are orders,” according to Sayna Cafon, the group’s president, in a telephone interview on June 24.
“But we hope to enhance our products as we also wish to target the export market,” Cafon said in Filipino, acknowledging that “some of our buyers are selling them outside the country.”
In Lake Sebu, she said, basket-weaving is common, especially among women who make it a source of income.
She said their buyers include tourists, hotels and resorts and even locals who come to buy and sell them in the market.
While the group is also being helped by the Department of Trade and Industry, the distance and difficulty of bringing their products to the market have hampered their production, thus limiting their access to potential buyers.
Nevertheless, in the upland areas, gathering raw materials from the forest to make native products is more than just a tradition. This practice has become a way of life to help their families make ends meet.
The DENR-Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) is promoting forest-friendly activities, encouraging communities to make products that pose less harm to the forests and wildlife.
This is not unique to the Philippines as the practice is also being done by its Southeast Asian neighbors and in other parts of the world.
Asean Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) Executive Director Theresa Mundita S. Lim told the BusinessMirror via Facebook Messenger on June 24 that the intergovernmental institution assists farmers and IPs living in and around Asean Heritage Parks (AHPs) to sustainably manage protected areas through livelihood program.
Under the Biodiversity-based Products project, ACB promotes BBP to improve livelihoods and protect biodiversity.
BBP is anchored on the belief that Asean’s rich natural resources and biodiversity offer significant potential for the region’s socio-economic development.
“We have honey, black ginger and bamboo [as] we work with communities living in and around selected AHPs,” Lim said, citing some biodiversity-friendly products that generate huge income without harming the environment.
According to ACB, Asean member-states (AMS) want to harness the economic potential of the region’s rich biodiversity by further developing trade relations for bio-products or organic trade in the national, regional, and even global level.
Recognizing that the potential of BBP, especially for the indigenous population in the buffer zones of protected areas in the region, has yet to be sufficiently analyzed and is often unknown, the BBP as an economic source for the improvement of livelihoods and biodiversity protection project was launched.
The ACB said, however, that “AMS do not get sufficient support in promoting BBP.”
“To promote Asean national policies on conservation, particularly within the framework of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, Asean established the ACB to address the protection of biodiversity on a regional level, develop and disseminate joint strategies and explore win-win opportunities, merging biodiversity protection with livelihood,” ACB pointed out.
Images courtesy of Sayna Cafon and Kate S. Pagayon/DAR Region XII