By Zac B. Sarian

Producing vegetable tops, or talbos, is a project that is right for the very small and not-so-small agripreneur. It does not require a huge investment and the gestation period is short. One can start harvesting in two months or less.

Let’s begin with the micro agripreneur. 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, there’s no way the poor farmer can 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.

Camote with divided leaves.

That will require some capital, right? Well, here’s what the farmer should do. He should seek help from the municipal or provincial agriculturist. The government agencies are actually very helpful to those who seek their help. Who knows, the provincial agriculture office could lend the farmer 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 what happened to a retiree we know who wanted to do her farming in Lipa City after retiring from her business. When she asked for help 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 kind of help you need or are asking for.

Back to the talbos project, starting with sweet potato. Planting camote does not require a big capital. In fact, a few hundred cuttings can already start the business. 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 shoots are often ignored as a possible source of steady income, but then it is very possible [to make money from it] 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.

Two beautiful plots for talbos production.

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. Thirty 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 30 plots of camote a hundred meters long? 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 kinds of talbos that can be produced in a coconut plantation with ample space. One of them is ampalaya shoots, which is a favorite of Ilocanos in cooking mungo and pinakbet. Usually, ampalaya shoots fetch a much higher price than camote and alugbati. Another potential crop 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. Then there is saluyot. With enough water supply, saluyot can be grown even during the dry months when there are no saluyot growing in the wild.

Highly suited for commercial agripreneurs 

Actually, this idea is not only a possibility for the poor coconut farmers. Enterprising agripreneurs, especially 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.

SCENARIO NO. 1 – This is for Millennials whom the government are encouraging to go into agriculture. They might not have enough personal savings to start their project, but there is an excellent opportunity here. The Department of Agriculture is setting aside P1-billion for lending to young agripreneurs through the Agricultural Credit Policy Council. This could be a no-interest loan program, or if there is, interest would be really very low.

Purple camote could contain more antioxidants than the green ones.

At least five Millennials who are committed to the idea could form a corporation primarily for talbos production. They can be mentored by Go Negosyo, which has been helping a lot of aspiring business entrepreneurs. That way, they can set up a production system, marketing strategies, and research and development thrusts. The project has to be science-based. The company could conduct its own trials of the various varieties of camote to find out which the market prefers.

While camote would be the flagship talbos, they should diversify because there are many other varieties that are saleable in the market. Quality talbos should be produced and packaged attractively for both supermarkets and the wet market, weekend market, and others.

SCENARIO NO. 2 – There are situations where Talbos production can be highly advantageous for a number of good reasons. We have in mind the Aztec Spirulina Farm being developed by the company on a three-hectare property in Tanay. Only about one hectare will be utilized for spirulina production. The rest could be used for planting various vegetables. But if the owners so desire, one hectare could be devoted to talbos production.
Why is it advantageous to produce talbos commercially at the Aztec Spirulina Farm? No.1 – It is very accessible by car and is very near the Manila market. No. 2 -The place is fully fenced so there is no security problem. No. 3 – Electricity is available, which is useful in irrigating the plants.
No. 4 – This is very important. There is available water that is rich in nutrients to nourish the plants without need of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. How come? Well, the blue Spirulina algae are cultured in concrete tanks. Every month, the water is changed and the sediments on the floor are removed, together with the water. This used water is deposited in a concrete pond at the lowest point of the property. With this used water, as per the experience of the Puente family who owns the farm, they have grown garden plants as well as sweet corn and other vegetables with nothing but the used water and sediments from the growing pond in their farm in Cainta, Rizal.
Now, let’s take a final look at the list of varieties you can grow for talbos: Camote, alugbati, saluyot, siling labuyo, kalabasa, sayote, ampalaya, malunggay, talinum, and kangkong.
This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s February 2020 issue.