By Vina Medenilla
Many Filipinos rely on agriculture for food, income, and beyond, especially those that live in landlocked municipalities.
However, in recent years, local farmers have been suffering severely from the low prices of palay after it dropped due to the pandemic and implementation of the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL).
Owing to this, farmers are finding more ways to augment their income amid the COVID-19 health crisis.
In Santo Niño, South Cotabato, a group of 15 women farmers launched unique and earth-friendly bags with the same goal.
All of them are members of a farmer group called People’s Action For Liberative Agricultural Industry, Inc. (PALAI, Inc.).
Successfully finding a niche in the market
PALAI chairperson Mael Jethel J. Kapunan, 58, chanced upon paper-based packaging materials way back in 2012 during an agricultural training course in Japan.
Their organization has been trying out different products since 2014. However, due to a lack of resources and equipment, they failed to sustain their production.
In 2020, after a series of consultations with the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), the local government of Sto. Nino, South Cotabato, Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), and Department of Science and Technology (DOST), PALAI came up with the idea of handcrafted eco bags made from rice straw.
Rice straw, or dayami, is often considered an agricultural waste product from harvested rice plants. It is typically burnt in the fields, which contributes significantly to pollution. This is what PALAI aims to mitigate.
Instead of burning and discarding dayami, PALAI members turn these rice by-products into eco-friendly bags.
How do they make it?
The women put a lot of effort and time into making these eco bags, which take hours to make. Every day, one farmer can produce up to 30 paper sheets.
Rice straw is boiled for four hours, cleaned and washed afterward, then stored in a disintegrator for grinding.
Once crushed into pieces, they are placed in a tub and transferred into a cartolina-sized mold. Farmers wait for the straws to dry and form into solid paper sheets. After that, the papers are cut according to the size of the bag that farmers want to create.
An agribusiness that sustains the farmers and environment
Our local farmers and the environment can both benefit from these rice straw products.
PALAI sources rice straw from the members’ farms or neighboring farmers for P10 per sack, which can produce approximately 40 paper sheets.
Apart from providing a greener alternative for single-use plastics, the paper sheets can also serve as wallpaper and sometimes, even as a DIY canvas for paintings. Its usage largely depends on how clients wish to utilize them in order to satisfy their needs, said Kapunan.
After use, the handmade eco bags can also be recycled as fertilizer. “Rice straw from one-hectare [rice field] can generate an equivalent of two bags of 14-14-14 granular complete fertilizer when it is decomposed,” he added.
PALAI’s paper bags come in a variety of sizes and forms, with prices ranging from P20 to P45.
The sales go directly to women producers, and they allot a royalty fee of P5 per sold paper sheet to the organization.
These farmers prove that agriculture can provide more than just food. Imagine how much Filipino farmers can achieve if given sufficient support and appreciation.
Photos courtesy of PALAI Handmade Paper Industry