By Zac B. Sarian
Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the poor coconut farmer. With the current rock bottom prices of copra and mature nuts, no way can the poor farmer support his family’s basic needs.
So what can we do to help him? By opening his eyes to practical and doable ideas on how to generate new income from his coconut farm. Let’s just take one very doable project that one farmer’s family can undertake with very little capital, if any at all. The project is to plant sweet potato and other common crops for “talbos” production as an honest to goodness farm business. It is presumed, of course, that the farmer is willing to work hard every day in the company of household members so that there would be no cash out for outside labor.
That will require some capital, right? Well, here’s what the farmer should do. He should seek help from the municipal agriculturist or provincial agriculturist. The government agencies are actually very helpful to those who seek their help. Who knows, the provincial agriculture office could lend a tiller to prepare the plots for planting. And the agency could also provide some of the planting materials.
Is that possible? Well, it is very possible. Just like when a retiree we know who wanted to do her farming in Lipa City after retiring from her business. When she asked for advice from the city agriculture office, she was offered the services of a technician to advise her. The agency also lent her their tractor to do the clearing and plowing. All she shouldered was the fuel and salary of the driver.
Here’s one more instance which proves that government agencies are really helpful to those who seek help from them. This is the case of Edna V. Sanchez, a Meralco retiree who went into dragon fruit farming in Jalajala, Rizal. When she wanted to learn how to make dragon fruit wine, she approached the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) for help. And she was given an expert to teach her. Now you see, government agencies can be very helpful if you tell them exactly what help you are asking for.
Back to the talbos project, starting with sweet potato. Camote does not require a big capital to start the project. In fact, a few hundred cuttings can already start the project. As soon as the plants are well established, new propagations can be obtained from the original plants, and so on. Expansion will be faster with more sources of planting materials. Camote shoot is often ignored as a possible source of steady income but then it is very possible because a lot of people like to eat it and it is also very nutritious. So the untapped market is there. Both the common people as well as the well-to-do love camote tops. If one does not have a tractor to cultivate the land, one can build plots edged with hollow blocks or some other indigenous material like bamboo. The plots will then be filled with old manure, rice hull, and other organic matter. A hundred plots planted in a staggered manner could produce high quality camote tops that consumers would love to buy.
How much money can one make from 100 plots of camote? Every 30 days, one plot that is 30 meters long can easily produce 30 kilos of good quality “talbos”. One kilo is usually divided into four smaller bundles that sell ex-farm at P10 each, so one kilo is worth P40. Thirty kilos times 40 pesos would give a daily gross income of P1,200. Not bad really.
Almost simultaneously, the farmer can also plant in plots Alugbati which is a very fast grower. This is a talbos that many Ilonggos love to cook with their mungo and other vegetable preparations. Some just stir-fry the tender shoots. In terms of shoot production, Alugbati can easily outyield camote.
There are many other talbos that can be produced in the coconut plantation with ample space. One of them is ampalaya shoots which is a favorite of Ilocanos in cooking mungo as well as in pinakbet.
Usually, ampalaya shoot fetches a much higher price than camote and Alugbati. Another is talbos ng sili which is a favorite for cooking tinola. This can be grown in plots or in plastic pots. Ilocanos also love to cook talbos ng kalabasa so it is another possibility for the Talbos King to grow.
Actually, this idea is not only a possibility for the poor coconut farmers. Enterprising agripreneurs near Metro Manila can adopt it to produce big volumes of good quality talbos. This is one project that does not require expensive greenhouses and high-tech equipment.