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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Once infesting weed Ragiwdiw gives footwear-handicraft livelihood and income to Camarines Sur farming families

Farming families in Camarines Sur are taking advantage of a handicraft industry produced from what was formerly a pestering weed “Ragiwdiw” that now gives employment and income for flooding-affected rural villages.

A handicraft material that can potentially outweigh durability and cost of Philippines’ famous hemp abaca, Ragiwdiw now offers Bicol Region’s village folks livelihood from the production of footwear, household items such as hampers and placemats, and gift products like bags.

Ragiwdiw used to be just an obstinate weed that got in the way of a good yield of rice farmers. It is so persistent that it could survive in swamps and flooded areas that prevailed in what could be a climate change-induced flooding calamity that pestered many farmers in the Bicol Region.

But the Department of Agriculture and its agencies, primarily through a research of the Philippine Rice Research Institute (Philrice), and later with the financial assistance of the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR), have found a way to make use of this hard-headed weed to become a source of income for farmers.

Ragiwdiw footwear and handicraft making is now part of a Philrice program called “Integrated Crop-Aquaculture-Livestock Farming Systems Modules” and BAR’s Village-level Agri-Enterprise (VAE) carried out with local government institutions.

“Employment opportunities among the residents increased as bulk of orders (for Ragiwdiw products) continuously sets in. Economic activity is visible with an increasing number of households engaged in seagrass craft (Ragiwdiw) production,” said Emmanuel P. Oroyo of the Department of Agriculture-Regional Field Unit-Bicol Integrated Agricultural Research Center (DA-RFU-BIARC).

DA has been finding a way to increase farmers’ total income by encouraging them to plant not only rice but also other high value crops such as vegetable. They may also engage in extra farm activities such as fishing and livestock raising. However, aside from farming per se, farmers are able to raise their income potential by engaging in so-called off-farm activities like handicraft-making of which Ragiwdiw footwear is one.

“Village level agri-enterprises are our hope of providing rural employment, increasing family income, and empowering communities,” said Dr. Nicomedes P Eleazar, BAR Director.

BAR has financed provision of handicraft welding machine, production tools, and the construction of curing room of Ragiwdiw handicraft items. The curing room enables production of durable Ragiwgiw fiber material resistant to termites and pests.

“However, promotion is one area that needs to be worked on for Ragiwdiw handicraft”, said DA RFU Regional Technical Director Elena De los Santos. “Aside from BAR and DA-RFU5, DTI (Department of Trade and Industry) is also helping to promote it as a One Town, One Product of San Fernando (Camarines Sur)”.

As an OTOP, a product gets the advantage of promotion, technical, and financial help from the locality.

More help for marketing is sought for Ragiwdiw handicraft products since it has already captured a good market in Camarines Sur, Albay, Metro Manila, and other provinces.

The slippers, sandals, slip-ons for men and women are displayed in public markets, some balikbayan (Filipinos abroad on homecoming)-oriented specialty stores, and a DA-BAR Technology Commercialization Center.

“This has already reached Japan (through balikbayan hand-carried shipment),” said Emily Noora, a footwear maker who boasts of her daintily-designed Ragiwdiw sandals of being durable and one that has therapeutic trait due to the massage-giving value for the foot sole.

“It lasts for a long time,” said Noora. “It’s also a treatment for rheumatism.”

At present, the footwear enterprise’s also experience shortage of raw materials for the production of handicraft products. This presents a problem for its expansion.

“There are times of the year especially in September during the Penafrancia Festival when farmers in San Fernando lack the finished products. We need to scale up production during festivities because these are really very saleable,” said Oroyo.

With its initial success, the San Fernando local government unit, DTI-Camsur, and PDDCP (Product Development and Design Center of the Philippines) have started pouring their technical assistance, skills training sponsorship, product development trainings for footwear production.

The lowly Ragiwdiw is now in trade fairs and more classy markets as pasalubong centers.

The San Fernando Women’s Association has led enhancement training for handicraft makers and has opened up enterprises loans.

Moreover, the Philippine Army’s 565 ECB supported the project through free manpower for the footwear production’s construction of a building. The Army also assisted in market linkage with the Philippine, Army, Metro Manila buyers, and with the Officers Ladies Group of the Engineer’s Brigade.

With a handicraft component in this VAE, return on investment (ROI) of farmers rose to 55 percent, the highest ROI level among a few studied VAE models. This is compared to 50 percent ROI in rice and swine; 45 percent in rice and rice; and 44 percent in rice, vegetables, and fish.

Cost of production in rice-ducks-watermelon-Ragiwdiw handicraft may be higher at P44,500, but its gross income is also high at P79,500, bringing a net income of P49,000, the highest among the studied VAE models.

Rice-vegetables-fish gave a gross income of P83,500, but with a high production cost of P37,500, net income is also lower at P46,000. Rice-swine’s net income under the same study was at a further lower P37,500, while rice plus rice got the lowest net income at P22,000, although production cost was also at a low of P20,000.

Philrice’s integrated farming model Palayamanan sought for a way to eradicate Ragiwdiw weed which has been infesting an estimated 241,501 metric tons (MT) of Bicol Region rice production as of 2008. This is within the Bicol River Basin, Camarines Sur that has a vast flood-prone rice-producing area that is home to Ragiwdiw.

“Rice farmers in flood-prone areas tend to take chance by planting during wet season, but majority left their farms to fallow (leaving these to Ragiwdiw growth),” said Oroyo.

With the local’s discovery of Ragiwdiw as a footwear material, a successful model has even brought net income of a 3,200 square meters farm to P251,304. This VAE model also includes cattle farming.

The Ragiwdiw footwear industry gives employment to out-of-school youths, housewives, and other family members.

It also gives livelihood to PWDs (persons with disability) some of whom are victims of polio as the program was coordinated with the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

“Children of farmers were working before outside of their farms to help augment the family income. Now all the members of the family help in the Ragiwdiw business,” Oroyo said.

The footwear business specifically brings jobs for Ragiwdiw harvesters, who are also the ones drying the fiber. They may earn P2,400 per month. This is at P40 per kilo for dried Ragiwdiw strands selling at 10 to P15 kilos per week.

For the twine weavers, an income is earned at P50 per meter for a production of 450 meters per month. His daily income is placed at P240. Assemblers and sewers that produce four to five dozens a day can earn P2.50 per pair or P150 per day.

“One of noticeable improvement is those engaged in Ragiwdiw production are now able to send their children to school due to additional income,” said Oroyo.

While abaca fiber is a known footwear material in the country, studies show that Ragiwdiw is an even better footwear material than abaca based on cost and production time, among others. It costs only P40 per bundle of one kilo since it is harvested in marshlands and are not intentionally planted, while abaca is priced eight times more at P300 per kilo. When stored during the rainy season, Ragiwdiw lasts better with its resistance to molds compared to abaca.

It takes 18 to 24 months to harvest abaca. But Ragiwdiw only takes two to three months to harvest. Subsequent harvesting interval is also longer for abaca at three to four months compared to ragiwdiw’s two to 2.5 month interval.

Both materials, though, are processed manually or by cutting and hand stripping and both are dried through sun-drying.

BAR’s project has made many improvements in the Ragiwdiw footwear production in a review of operations from 2006 to 2011.

Farmers have learned to diversify their crops unlike their previous monocropping practice, basically purely rice production. They now use both organic and inorganic fertilizers unlike purely chemical-based fertilizer before.

Their new learning also benefits the environment as they have ceased from burning rice straws and are rather composting these now.

A One-Stop-Shop Display Center has also been put up for its marketing, while Philrice earlier funded purchase of five units of sewing machines.

DA has started a clustering of producers in Camarines Sur in order to organize the industry. The raw materials supplier cluster now consists of three baranggays—Beberon, Flordeliz, and Buenavista. The weaver cluster is formed by five baranggays—Beberon, Flordeliz, Buenavista, Del PiLar, and Lupi. The assembler-sewer-finisher cluster is found in Brgy. Del Pilar.

BAR is further identifying researcheable areas for optimized seagrass-based agribusiness development.

The BAR project has achieved some success due to a few reasons. Top among these must be its participatory technology development approach where needs of the community are assessed based on farmers’ perception themselves of what they need.

The village enterprise should be expanded further at the municipal level, Oroyo said.

“(A future project should) upscale it into a municipal-level handicraft production enterprise. Clustering of direct and indirect key-players in seagrass craft industry in the locality to insure stable source of raw materials and skilled workforce to meet the increasing demand of the commodity,” he said.

Ragiwdiw is a course sedge distinctly triangular with long broad leaves measuring about one meter long. It has slender stolons about five-centimeter (cm) thick, its stem strongly three-angled, one to two centimeter wide with three to four leaf-life bracts, and 30 to 80 cm long and spreading. It thrives in flooded areas along water swamps, streams, canals, and ditches in Bicol.

The seagrass’s leaves are dried, sorted for quality, woven, and dyed. It is used as sole and strap of fancy slippers and shoes.

The seagrass’s leaves are dried, sorted for quality, woven, and dyed. It is used as sole and strap of fancy slippers and shoes.

It was once a pest that destroys 40 percent of farmers’ rice production. Some grasses also have toxicity and have harmful effect on human and animals, and Ragiwdiw may just be one of those too.

When land becomes a fallow, it becomes a rich field for weeds and sedges to grow. When rice farming is up, a fallow land will need more cost for herbicides and labor for land preparation.

This is the sad result of flooding—low income due to low farm productivity as only one rice cropping season is left in a year. DA RFU Regional Technical Director Elena De los Santos

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