Seagrasscraft is a blooming handicraft enterprise

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Richard Bach once quoted, “every problem has a gift for you in its hands”. This is the scenario best describes Camarines Sur, which is known as one of the best tourist destinations in the country. Despite its tourism progression, there is an underlying problem that marks the economic development of the said province.

In the technical seminar series at Bureau of Agriculture Research (BAR) 7th Agriculture and Fisheries Technology Forum and Product Exhibition, Mr. Emmanuel P. Oroyo of Bicol Integrated Agricultural Research Center (BIARC) presented a BIARC’s project that answered this problem.

This project titled Enterprise Development in Flood Prone Areas in Camarines Sur tackled the long-standing problem of vast flood-prone rice producing areas (particularly along the Bicol river basin) and the solutions they came up to solve this dilemma.

In the presentation, Mr. Oroyo said that those rice-farmers that do not engage in off-farm livelihood activities take risk to plant during wet seasons. However, majority of the flood-prone rice producing areas are still left fallowed. Because of this, additional costs on herbicides and labor are needed to remove the various weeds and sedges that emerge during the fallow period.

With this, the PalaYamanan project of PhilRice at San Fernando, Camarines Sur, spearheaded the development of integrated farming system for the flood-prone areas. Through the new cropping system, it gave birth to seagrasscraft industry.

Seagrass (Rynchospora corymbosa) is a coarse edge with distinct triangular broad leaves measures about one meter long. Locally, it is called ragiwdiw, and also known as agas in Bicol region. It grows abundantly in flood-prone areas of Bicol along swamps, streams, canals, and ditches. The salapid, the hand-twined dried stalks from the seagrass, is used as primary raw materials in handicraft-making.

The potential of seagrasscraft in the handcraft industry paved way for BAR to extend institutional support. Through the BAR’s provision of common service facilities and production equipment, it can now maximize its full operation by supplying the increasing demand for seagrasscraft in the local handicraft industry market mainstream.

The increasing popularity of using seagrass fiber among the handicraft-makers is due to its comparability to abaca sheath. Based on the comparative analysis done between seagrass fiber and abaca sheath as raw material for handicraft production, seagrass fiber cost less (P40.00 per bundle) than the abaca sheath (P300.00 per bundle); seagrass only takes 2-3 months before maturity for harvesting than the abaca sheath which takes 18-24 months; and seagrass fiber has greater resistance to molds during storage and rainy season than the abaca sheath.

As an off-farm source of livelihood, engaging to seagrass enterprise is enough to sustain the daily needs of an average household. Amounting to P0.60 per meter, an average household (5 members) can produce 500 meters of salapid obtaining of about P300.00 per day.

According to BIARC Manager Ms. Luz R. Marcelino, they have a wide array of seagrasscraft ranging from functional uses such as trays, bags, slippers, and hampers to decorative items. She added that the seagrasscraft makers are continuously experimenting and generating new products. File system box and folder kit are the new seagrasscraft products.

At present, it is noted that the enterprise development in flood-prone areas project in Camarines Sur bring about additional employment opportunities among the residents due to the increase of 20-35 percent in bulk orders on seagrasscraft. The economic activity in the community is visibly ensured by increasing number of households engaged in seagrasscraft production.

Looking forward in identifying research areas for optimum production and continuous product development of seagrass-based agribusiness enterprise is one of directions the project team wants to pursue. They envision upscaling into municipal-level the craft-village handicraft production enterprise. They also plan to cluster the direct and indirect keyplayers in seagrasscraft industry in the locality to insure stable source of raw materials and skilled workforce to meet the increasing demand of the commodity, and strengthening and maintaining linkage mechanism between the target organizations and supporting entities to sustain the local handicraft industry.

Undeniably a unique and profitable enterprise, the seagrasscraft industry has been officially identified and promoted as banner commodity of the town of San Fernando under the One-Town-One-Product (OTOP) Program of the Department of Trade and Industry. (Diana Rose A. de Leon/DA-BAR)

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