Meet the Lady Behind the Cornhusk Industry
She finished a course in foreign service but she has been more involved in agriculture, touching the lives of farmers and their families. She is Rue R. Ramas of General Santos City; a lady of many talents. She has trained in organic farming, vegetable production, fashion illustration, community development, judo and many more. But she is better known as owner and manager of Seed World, a company that specializes in producing hybrid corn seeds.
Being in the corn seed business, it is understandable that making high-value products out of the lowly cornhusk has been her passion in the past five years. She is the president of the Cornhusk Association of the Philippines (CHAP) which boasts active membership all over Mindanao and as far as La Union and other parts of Luzon.
Would you believe that cornhusk can be turned into beautiful high-priced dolls, slippers, bags, home decors and many more? Thanks to the obsession of Rue, the cornhusk craft has developed into an industry that is now helping many families earn additional income from what used to be waste from the farm.
In January 2003, Rue, who had worked for seed corn research companies for 14 years, started researching and experimenting on cornhusk craftsmanship. And with the help of Dr. Art Salazar of the Department of Agriculture, they started training 62 women members of the Rural Improvement Club (RIC) of General Santos City, followed by 300 women from Sarangani province. And because of the keen interest of many women in the craft, Rue organized CHAP of which she is president to this day.
The craft also caught the interest of big companies like the Pioneer Hi-Bred Philippines, a leading producer of hybrid corn seeds. In August 2004 Pioneer Hi-Bred sponsored the first inter-municipal cornhusk craft competition involving the towns of Malapatan, Malungon, Alabel, Banga and General Santos City. The project so impressed DuPont, the mother company of Pioneer in the United States, that it gave a grant of US$8,000 for the use of Pioneer to train farm families on cornhusk craft in the corn growing areas in Luzon and Mindanao.
Interest grew and grew and in February 2005, the first Cornhusk Trade Fair and Competition was held in General Santos, followed by another the following year. Also in November 2006, a competition was also held in Urdaneta City participated in by cornhusk crafters from La Union, Pangasinan and other places who have undergone training in the craft. This was under the auspices of Rue and Pioneer, in cooperation with the regional office of the Department of Agriculture and the local government in Pangasinan.
To further promote the cornhusk business, the Cornhusk Business Center complete with training facilities was set up in 2006 in General Santos City, with the support of Director Jesus Binamira of the Ginintuang Masaganang Ani Corn Program of the Department of Agriculture. Binamira enjoined all regional corn co-ordinators to incorporate cornhusk craft in the corn program as an added source of income for farmers. The Cornhusk Business Center is where crafters bring their finished products for sale. Marketing is done through the website and other forms of promotion. As a result, orders also come from overseas. Among the saleable products are Barbie dolls at p380 each, Imelda and B’laan dolls at P200, hats at P180, phalaenopsis orchid at P120 and others.
Rue notes that the ingenuity of Filipinos is expressed in cornhusk crafting. Other countries are usually identified with single cornhusk products. Japan, for instance, is known for making cornhusk slippers. China makes cornhusk bags while Slovakia is famous for its cornhusk dolls. In the Philippines, in just a span of three years crafters are producing a variety of products like flowers, dolls, home decors, toys, apparel, hats, bags, mats, slippers, corporate giveaways and tokens.
Rue notes that what contributes to the rapid development is specialization. The association guides a chapter to specialize in just two or three products and therefore achieves speed, uniformity, and quality. In Mindanao, she adds, Banga town is known for woven products, Alabel and Tupi for flowers, Tacurong City for gift items, and General Santos for dolls.
Rue says the local government units (LGUs) are the best promoters of cornhusk products. In General Santos, for instance, the mayor declared that the official corsage, lei.and token gifts of the city are made of cornhusk. Mayor Ramon Piang of Upi, Maguindanao also declared the same.
How much can the crafters make? Of course, it all depends on their ingenuity. Rue says that even with a seed capital of only P50, one can already produce P1,000 worth of cornhusk products. There are crafts that need no cash at all like bags, hats, coasters, angels and mats. One crafter may earn the equivalent of a daily minimum wage. Expert crafters. however, could earn a fortune. It takes at least two hours to learn a particular craft and the product can easily be sold. Inexpensive crafting needs may be bought at any bookstore. Handy tools are scissors and glue-gun.
Rue also relates that after a day’s work. a farmer may work at home doing cornhusk braids and twines that are sold to crafters at P1.50 to P3 per meter. He may sell selected cornhusk to crafters at P15 per kilo and P30 per kilo for Bt cornhusk that are preferred due to clean texture. Long cornstalks that are used as decor accessories are bought at p1 per piece. Corn silk used as hair for dolls is sold at P50 per kilo.
Crafters boast that they could pay their electric bills, meet school tuition and buy food for the table with their income from cornhusk crafting. That’s not Rue Ramas boasting.