Earning P35,000 Weekly from Malunggay
Only a few people know that malunggay grows well in sandy loam soil. An Ilokano farmer is one of these few people. He has transformed a wasteland with sandy loam soil in Barangay Salapasap, Cabugao, Ilocos Sur into a malunggay plantation, and he have been earning a lot from it.
In 1972, when the Green Revolution was just beginning, Antonio Solima, now 69, bought a 1.3-hectare wasteland along the coast of the China Sea not really knowing that the land would be a virtual “goldmine”. The only vegetation seen in the area was what the locals call kandaroma, a bushy evergreen plant with lots of thorny, intertwining branches which usually grows along the coastline.
For this reason, it was very unlikely for a person in the right mind to invest even P0.22 per square meter for this kind of land 35 years ago, but. Antonio proceeded anyway to make a gamble with his P3,000 savings. Since all he wanted then was to own a land.
Antonio cleared the land and it took him a year because he had a hard time cutting kandaroma plants because he was often bruised by its thorns.
He burned the trimmings and soon after some portions were already cleared, he started to plant malunggay, which he saw was growing well in the backyards of other residents. His grandfather also had some trees which served as his sources of planting materials.
50 TREES FOR A START
He planted only 50 trees in the first year because there were not much malunggay stems that he could get from his grandfather. The initial 50 trees started producing some pods the following year and Antonio’s wife, Flora, sold these at the town’s public market. Ilocanos consider malunggay pods as a very delicious food, but most Filipinos consume only the leaves because they don’t know that the pods can be cooked with bagoong, tomato, and ground beef or pork or roast fish.
When Antonio started to harvest his crop in 1973, the farmgate price of malunggay pods was PO.SD apiece, and that time, it was already considered a good price. Although he was not earning much, he was encouraged to continue planting, hoping that someday, his income would eventually increase if he would plant more malunggay trees.
Through hard work and determination, he planted more and more trees year after year until he planted almost the whole land with malunggay trees. Except for small patches he planted with okra, calamansi, and sitao, and an area where he and his children built their houses, the rest of the land was used for malunggay cultivation.
The six tamarind saplings that he spared when he was clearing the area are now fully grown around those houses. From the tamarind trees, Antonio earns at least P20,000 from their fruits in May. The buyers, who are market vendors, harvest the fruits themselves and, hence, Antonio does not spend anything for harvesting.
Antonio’s ihcome from malunggay pods has also been increasing because his harvest has been increasing, too.
Flora soon found herself bringing pods to the Laoag City public market because local consumers could no longer consume all of it.
Flora relates that she was paying an entreda, an entrance fee to sell in the market at the start. But, the market manager in Laoag City soon demanded that she should get a marketing license worth almost P1,000 every six months because of the large number of pods that she was selling. At that time, she was bringing as many as 6,000 pods every time she went to Laoag City. The selling price then was only P60 for every 100 pods and their gross income per harvest was P3,600. And since they were harvesting twice a week, they were earning P7,200 weekly.
The market manager thought Flora was a middleman, but she insisted that the pods were her own produce.
The market manager, however, still doubted hef and insisted that she had to get a marketing license before she could sell malunggay pods in Laoag again. He doubted Flora because as far as he knew, nobody in the Ilocos ever planted 1,000 square meters with malunggay. Normally, malunggay trees are just planted as part of the perimeter boundary or as a fence. A household may have as many as 20 to 40 trees, but not thousands.
Fortunately, somebody who knew Flora well and happened to have a stall at the vegetables section of the public market, explained to the market manager in her behalf that the pods were really her own produce.
Flora was bringing their harvest to the Laoag City public market twice a week until middlemen started doing business with her in the mid-’80s. While middlemen still bring some pods to Laoag City, a bigger chunk of the harvest is brought to distant places like Cagayan, Isabela, Tarlac, and Urdaneta City.
14,000 PODS A WEEK
Today, Antonio harvests no less than 7,000 pods per harvest or 14,000 pods a week during the peak period. A small bundle with 10 pods now costs P25. This means that with two harvests a week, their weekly gross income is now no less P35,000.
Antonio, however, has to hire two to three workers to help him harvest the pods. Each worker is paid P 100 a day and they are also given snacks and lunch. Harvesting starts at seven until 11 o’clock in the morning and then resumes at 2 to 5 o’clock in the afternoon. During lunch break, the workers sort the pods and make small bundles.
Harvesting starts in mid-November and winds up in May if heavy rains begin to pour, as malunggay does not like too much water; its leaves drop when the roots get soaked continuously in water. Moreover, pods produced during the rainy season are bitter and, hence, not palatable
Antonio and Flora said their children would not have had college degrees if not for their malunggay trees. Two finished radio communication operation, two graduated courses on marine science and technology, and one studied computer technology and now works in a construction firm.
The youngest child, a girl, finished the BS in Nursing from the University of Northern Philippines in Vigan City and was reviewing for the nursing licensure examination when we visited the farm. With the current high cost of nursing education, Flora said it would have been extremely difficult for them to send their daughter to nursing school without their income from malunggay.
Five years ago, an enterprising couple in the barangay who work at the local municipal government decided to follow Antonio’s example. Carmelo and Lourdes Azcueta, realized that venturing in wide-scale planting of malunggay and integrated farming, their lives would be much better than just being lowly paid government employees.
Lourdes, a municipal treasurer, said they started planting malunggay in 2002. They intercropped it with vegetables, following a wide distance of planting. The couple later decided to follow a planting distance of 1 to 1.5 meters between trees. They had to hire farm workers to take care of the plants and pigs because they have to attend to their work in the local government from Monday to Friday. They now have seven laborers planting. replanting, weeding, harvesting, and attending to the pigs for them.
Unlike Antonio, Carmelo and Lourdes make sure that their plantation is free from weeds and replant immediately whenever planting materials are not successfully established. Not much input is needed to maintain the trees since fertilization and irrigation are not required. In fact, malunggay loves the long hot summer in Ilocos, the time when these continuously flower and produce pods.
Today, Carmelo and Lourdes already have more than 2,000 pod-bearing malunggay trees and yet they still continue to plant more whenever possible. Lourdes said the trees must have abundant sunlight to be productive. The big trees now bear around 400 pods each per season. They harvest four times a week, and they make sure no less than 4,000 pods are harvested on Saturdays.
“You can surely have a good life with malunggay if you take care of the plants very well,” Lourdes said.
Because of the success of the Solimas and Azcuetas, other residents of Barangay Salapasap have started to plant more malunggay trees in small scale. They, too, have realized that there is money in malunggay cultivation.
So, what are you waiting for? If you have a well-drained land which is not very productive, you may as well start planting malunggay.