"Be Cool Man"

World-class agricultural products comes out of Bicol

source: Melody M. Aguiba |

When it comes to emerging Filipino products, the Bicol Region can be the next big thing with its world-class goods foremost of which is a remake of the native pili nut.

One does not have to go far down south and cross islands to find other high-value goods like Bicol’s anti-arthritic native ‘Ragiwdiw’ footwear, healthy sweet sorghum cookies, nutrient-rich seaweed noodles, and the durable, finely embroidered pina fiber. For Bicol is just a land transport, although eight to 10 hours, away from Manila.

A Technology Commercialization Center (TCC) along Maharlika Highway in San Agustin, Pili, Camarines Sur has just been established to showcase these goods in the aim to establish a market that acknowledges international quality in Philippine goods.

For one, the “Wrapsody” pili pastry, coming from a humble beginning from the concoction of the husband and wife tandem Erwin and Cynthia, is now being positioned to be marketed in South East Asia as a delicacy worthy of comparison to the Mediterranean fame baklava, also a nut-filled pastry.

Wrapsody is made of layers of phyllo dough-thin sheets of dough that make flaky pies and pastries. Sweetened with caramel and syrup and made tastier by butter, it is filled with chopped pili nuts that take a customer to the distinct natural taste of pili that is recognizably as good as the almond in its bare flavor.

“Pili has a very delicate taste. The more you process it, the more you lose the real taste. If you’re not a Bicolano, you might not find it fine-tasting. But it’s a very good nut. It’s soft, and yet it’s crunchy.
Just sun-dry it, and it gives a very satisfying taste,” said Erwin who comes from Bicol.

Wrapsody’s production volume at present is 300 units (12 pieces of approximately 2×2-inch piece per unit) per week. But with government assistance on marketing, there is certainly a big room for growth for this product.

“I just wanted to come up with something new out of pili because everytime my husband would bring home pili then from Bicol to our house in Quezon City, I would ask him if there isn’t any other product than just the (honey-glazed) pili,” said Cynthia who’s a home-cooking expert.

She then scouted for all potential ingredients and tried and erred and tried again on it until the taste was perfect.

The Ragiwdiw native footwear is another piece of handicraft that’s getting a boost in the market through the TCC established by the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) in the aim to maximize commercialization of agriculture-based produce– processed and fresh.

Ragiwdiw is an obstinate weed in the rice fields that once pestered many farmers until the Philippine Rice Research Institute (Philrice) found a way to make rural folks earn from it through footwear-making. Smoother to the foot sole than abaca-made footwear, the fiber from Ragiwdiw manages to retain in the ridges it creates through the weaving process an ability to stimulate or massage the foot sole.

Thus, Ragiwdiw footwear maker Emily Noora boasts, “This is a treatment for rheumatism.”

For its nice look, therapeutic comfort, and durability (“it lasts for a long time,” Noora confesses), the Ragiwdiw slippers are being brought by Filipino balikbayans to their relatives and friends abroad.

“This has already reached Japan,” she said.

Prior to the establishment of the TCC, Noora’s goods were only being sold in public markets in Bicol. But these products need better image projection that they deserve.

“We positioned the TCC along the national highway so it can be strategically located. These centers should not look like they’re government–owned,” said BAR Director Nicomedes P. Eleazar.

Like Noora’s footwear handicraft, the sinamay bags, placemats, table runners, and decors of Bikol Sikat Handicraft (BSH) also need a new type of branded marketing.

“We need to have exposure. We’re only selling these at our factory in Camalig (Albay),” said BSH Entrepreneur Sheila Briones.

The TCC in Bicol, just the second TCC after BAR established one at its building along Visayas Avenue and Elliptical Circle in Quezon City, is actually becoming a center for technical assistance to farmers and rural enterprises and cooperatives. It also provides them internet access, a venue for assistance on real estate problems or business incubation needs, technical know-how in farming, technology transfer,and marketing.

TCC aims to narrow down the wide gap between technology generation and adoption by displaying the big potential for Filipino agricultural products.

It seeks to increase the income of farmers and small enterprises through value-adding, develop home-based and semi-commercial food processing enterprises, and generate jobs for housewives and out-of-school youth.

It should help reduce malnutrition in the outskirts and assist farmers in decreasing farm spoilage through technologies that will process crops during the peak season and sell these at a more attractive price off-season.

“It is becoming a convergence zone here for people who have different businesses,” said Norita Badong, entrepreneur who founded Diet Secret Cafe on Mayon Avenue in Naga City, a restaurant offering only healthful food such as sweet sorghum-made cookies.

Badong is apparently a Filipino pioneer in the use of non-wheat flour for cakes and pastries.

She is helped by TCC with the partnerships that she strikes with farmers, marketers, suppliers, or fellow entrepreneurs.

Diet Secret Cafe’s production of cakes, cookies, pasta, and snacks is contributing to increasing production of sweet sorghum of marginalized farmers in Pacol, Naga where 18 hectares are presently planted on sweet sorghum.

It has partnered with the Naga Small and Medium Business (NSMBE) from which it sources the sweet sorghum. The income that comes from sweet sorghum farming here is used to fund a scholarship for the underprivileged in the region.

Aside from giving livelihood and helping finance scholarships for the indigent, the growing of sweet sorghum also greatly benefits consumers. Sweet sorghum has those hard-to-find nutrients such as iron, calcium, and potassium. It is said to be the vitamins in the old times when vitamins were not yet in the form of over-the-counter pill.

Diet Secret Cafe, having been founded by a woman, , also gives livelihood to housewives who are being trained on food processing.

A native of Naga, Badong has specialized in using non-wheat flour from raw materials that are available in the PHilippines since this is both healthy and cost-effective. The Philippines heavily imports wheat for food– for our daily pan de sal, and import cost reaches to $200 million with around one million metric tons of imports a year.

She has successfully substituted the imported flour in cakes and bread without one even noticing the difference in the taste.

While it is difficult to use grainy flour like that of sweet sorghum flour, a key is in using this at a lower mesh sieve to make the product softer to the bite, said Badong. Non-wheat flour substitutes like sweet sorghum are also a rich source of nutrients.

“They’re already taking out the bran (outer layer of grain containing fiber, omegas, protein, vitamins and minerals), the hull, the wheat germ in white flour, so you’ll end up with empty carb. But sweet sorghum doens’t have a hull,” and so it retains the nutrients in the grain, she said.

Badong, who finished Nutrition and Dietetics at the Universidad de Sta. Isabel, has been developing bakery products from non-wheat flour over the last five years. Her other starchy vegetable raw materials for cookies and cakes are camote (sweet potato), cassava, and arrowroot (uraro or araro). These crops have high amylose starch, making them advisable for intake by diabetics, hypertensives, the obese, and the diet conscious.

“The beauty of uraro is it has a high amylose starch, so it can be perfect for diabetics. Your body doens’t metabolize it readily, so the calorie that it yields is very low. It’s low glycemic too since it’s high in fiber. It’s in fact being used to prevent colon cancer,” she said.

Badong’s other secret in making her products healthy is the use of natural sweeteners like coconut sap sugar, xylitol, and stevia.

The Bicol Region is also an upcoming leader in seaweed products as the region, as you know, is surrounded by coasts where seaweeds abundantly grow. Now becoming a popular product is noodles that have seaweeds for a major ingredient and thus take advantage of seaweed’s phytochemical richness and anti-cancer, flu prevention, and immune system booster properties.

The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources-Regional Fisheries Research Development Center (BFAR-RFRDC) has initiated from its field office in Sorsogon the making of seaweed noodles which is now spreading throughout the region.

RFRDC Manager Aida S. Andayog said that since the Pacific side of Sorsogon has the highest biodiversity of seaweed in the world, the region might as well maximize commercial trade of this marine resource. Besides, the PHilippines is producing as much as 80 percent of the world’s seaweed production.

Seaweed noodle manufacturing is now giving livelihood to many small businesses in the region. For instance, the Bacolod Enterprises and Fisherfolks Organization (BEFO), an organization initiated by housewives, has been producing over the last two-three years seaweed noodles that are marketed in the community. Now their seaweed noodles are reaching farther up north, Baguio.



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