The Tagbanwa attendees tries how the cassava grater is used as supervised by the Regional Corn and Cassava Coordinator Engr. Ma. Christine Inting (lady in blue polo shirt) and Regional Cassava Technical Expert Edmar Mendoza during DA-MiMaRoPa's technical demonstration on cassava production on March 23, 2016. (Photo by Denice Joelle Benosa, RAFIS, DA-MiMaRoPa)
In the far-flung area of Barangay Berong, Quezon in Palawan, there lives the tribe of Tagbanwa.
Tagbanwa Tribe is among the oldest ethnic groups and believed to be among the original inhabitants of the Philippines. This tribe owns the 21-hectare ancestral domain in the western coast of Palawan, which is comprised of the municipalities of Quezon, Narra, and Aborlan.
For the Tagbanwas, cassava is their alternative staple food. When their rice supply is not sufficient enough to feed their families, they turn to the root crop for nourishment as well as a source of income.
Currently, the royalty share paid to them by a mining company that operates in their area sustains the needs of the tribe.
When the mining company entered their domain in 2007, the tribe created Berong-Aramaywan Tagbanwa Association or BATA to help them manage their resources, particularly the royalty share. The name of the association is derived from the barangays where they live.
BATA has 900 Tagbanwa family members which they support through their programs on education, health, infrastructure, environment, culture, and tradition, as well as livelihood.
This year, BATA is helping 1,006 students under their educational program. Furthermore, they also provide solar panels to many homes and manage 100 hectares of cassava plantation and some piggeries, among others.
“Siniguro talaga namin na makikinabang talaga ang mga katutubo doon sa royalty, dahil ang prinsipyo namin ay dapat walang maiwan,” Maradya Epefanio Marcelo, the tribal leader, said.
The Maradya or Tribal Leader Epifanio Marcelo explains the ancestral domain of Tagbanwa. (Screenshot)
But since the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)'s clampdown on mining, BATA had to think of a way to find alternative sources of income to fund their programs in their association, in case the mining company in their area discontinues its operations.
Board Members of BATA suggested trying cassava farming to their elders. The elders agreed and allowed them to study how to make it their income generating project.
“Nakita nga namin mga elders na madami kaming cassava at nasasayangan kami kung ito’y mabubulok lamang. Nang bumisita ako sa taniman nakita ko nagkakasugat na ang kanilang kamay kakatadtad. Kaya ninanais din namin na ito ay mabili sana,” the worried Maradya said.
BATA, led by Maradya’s son Mike Marcelo, Chairman, suggested some ways they can make use of cassava.
“Isa sa napagiisipan namin ay tumayo kami ng sariling feed mill dahil meron nga kaming malawak na taniman ng cassava at may mais na rin at pagbababuyan din, yun ang tinitignan namin. Gusto naming na mag-focus sa ganun (agrikultura), kaysa umasa kami sa pagmimina dahil alam namin na ito ay hindi sa pansahabang buhay,” Chairman Marcelo explained.
Chairman Mike Marcelo of Berong-Aramaywan Tagbanwa Association welcomes the guests and attendees during DA-MiMaRoPa's Techno Demo on Cassava Production. (Photo by Denice Joelle Benosa, RAFIS, DA-MiMaRoPa)
“May pera sa cassava.”
As luck would have it, a member of a Balogo tribe from Mindanao visited their area and invited them to see their place to learn more about cassava.
In 2016, the officials of BATA had a “Lakbay Aral” in Maramag, Bukidnon where they learned how selling cassava uplifted their livelihood.
“Naikwento nila sa amin na dahil sa pagtatanim ng cassava sa apat (4) ne ektaryang lupa ay kaya kang makapagtapos ng medisina, enhenyero, at marami pang ibang kurso sa kolehiyo,” shared Motalib Kemiel, Chairman of Berong-Aramaywan Tagbanwa Producers Cooperative (BAPTC) who joined in the Lakbay Aral.
Chairman Motalib Kemiel of Berong-Aramaywan Tagbanwa Producers Cooperative (BATPC) hosts the technical demonstration. (Photo by Bernadeth Respicio, RAFIS, DA-MiMaRoPa)
They also had the chance to visit San Miguel Corporation, a multinational beverage company that uses cassava as the main ingredient for their beer.
“Napatunayan namin na ito pala ay sustainable source of income…Do’n din namin napag-alaman, nang dalhin kami sa napakalaking warehouse ng San Miguel Corporation, na wala pala silang (San Miguel) limit sa pagbili ng cassava,” Chairman Marcelo also shared.
Because of this, BATA decided to build a business with cassava as the main product, which will be handled by the BATPC. According to them, the income from cassava can fund their programs, especially in education.
“Napakaimportante na hindi matigil ang pondo para sa edukasyon dahil gusto namin na makapag-aral lahat ng aming mga ka-tribo…Kahit 3,000 ektarya ay mataniman namin ng cassava sa tingin namin ay pwede na,” he said.
In the meantime, they are in a joint contract with the Balogo Cooperative while they are fixing their requirements to be an assembler for the beverage company.
“No’ng nakabalik na kami dito sa Berong, doon na na-disseminate ang information sa mga katribo namin na may pera pala sa cassava,” shared by Chairman Marcelo.
Aside from San Miguel Corp., another company also promised them to buy their cassava.
DA-MiMaRoPa’s Cassava Techno Demo
However, not all tribe members were convinced that cassava could be a good source of income.
To convince some of the tribe members, they decided to seek the help of their friend from the Balogo Tribe. Their friend referred them to Dr. Candido Damo, the current Cassava and Corn Consultant of the Department of Agriculture (DA), so their tribe members would know more about the benefits of planting cassava.
After hearing their interest in cassava farming, Dr. Damo directed the Regional DA Corn and Cassava Program of MiMaRoPa to conduct a technical demonstration in their area.
On March 23, 2017, the techno demo happened. Dr. Damo, the group of the Regional Corn and Cassava Program led by its Regional Coordinator, Engr. Ma. Christine Inting, and representatives from the Provincial and Municipal Agriculture Office (MAO) visited their area to teach them the proper way of planting cassava, new technologies on cassava production such as the cassava grater and presser, and its different uses and byproducts.
Members attentively listened to each lesson and were amazed by the new equipment and cassava products presented to them.
Dr. Candido Damo, DA's Corn and Cassava Consultant, discusses the different uses and proper planting of cassava , (Photo by Denice Joelle Benosa, RAFIS, DA-MiMaRoPa)
Dr. Damo discussed cassava’s many uses such as thickener paste for soup and sauces, and binder and stabilizer for processed food products. Cassava's young tender leaves can be used as a potherb, and its other parts can also be used to feed animals.
This plant is also manufactured into beer, starch, MSG (monosodium glutamate), noodles, and chips. Aside from that, cassava can also be manufactured into glue, bio-ethanol (an alternative for fuel), and for pharmaceutical materials to make capsules and tablets, among others.
They also had hands-on experience on how to use the grater and presser as well as in the cooking demo facilitated by Engr. Inting and the region’s technical expert on cassava, Edmar Mendoza.
“Ngayon po ay napatunayan ko na may pera pala talaga sa cassava production dahil madami pala siyang iba’t ibang luto katulad ng polvoron, pichi-pichi, chips at iba pa. Lubos po kaming nasisiyahan sa aming mga natutunan,” said by one of the attendees in the techno demo.
Moreover, Dr. Damo and Engr. Inting assured the tribe of the DA’s support on their cassava project. They asked the tribe to send a request through their MAO for their farming needs.
Engr. Inting teaches the ladies of Tagbanwa how to make pichi-pichi (a cake snack made from cassava) for business. She also taught them how to make quality polvoron, cassava starch as main ingredient. (Photo by Denice Joelle Benosa, RAFIS, DA-MiMaRoPa)
“Hindi kami nababahala kahit na magsara ang minahan dahil nariyan naman ang Department of Agriculture na kaagapay namin at makakatulong sa amin sa mga makabagong teknolohiya,” an optimistic Chairman Marcelo uttered.
The Maradya also expressed that he is grateful that the DA supports their project. He has high hopes that the DA will help them make a better life for their tribe members.
“Napakaganda ng kanilang ipinapakita sa amin. Talagang kailangan namin ang kanilang (DA) tulong lalo na sa teknikal na aspeto at sa pagbebenta ng mga ito. Napakalaking tulong ito para sa amin upang ang aming tribo ay hindi mapagiwanan sa pamumuhay,” the Maradya expressed.