Coco sugar sweetens small town’s finances

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MARIA Virgenia Pejoro

DAVAO CITY—The gathering of coconut sap has always been the domain of tuba gatherers in the country but in a small village in Misamis Oriental, family members were seen lending each one a helping hand in performing the task.

Linabu, however, is not Balingasag town’s tuba capital even if family members would gather at least three times a day as they pour on large vats or containers the saps that their kin had collected from the towering coconut trees.

“Sap gathering is also becoming a family affair in our community,” Maria Virgenia Pejoro, general manager of the Linabu Agrarian Multi-Purpose Coop. (Lampco), says.

Since five years ago, the sight of family members helping each other in gathering coconut sap has always been the scene in the village.

The gathered sap would then be turned over to the Lampco office and they earn money, not just a few bucks, but modest amount of cash enough to better their lives, according to Pejoro.

“We have noted that the quality of lives of the farmers has significantly improved,” she says.

The sap that Lampco members from 49 family-members gather turns into coco sugar at the Lampco mini factory inside the village.

Coco sugar has been touted worldwide as having the lowest glycemic index (GI) of just 35, even beating other sweeteners such as sugar beet, which has a GI of 64; and sugarcane, which has a GI of about 40.

It is also increasingly becoming a phenomenon because of its supposed good role in one’s health and has been selling hot in such countries as the United States and Japan.

Because the end-product has become Lampco’s cash cow, family members doubled their efforts, and from just 5-ton a month, their cooperative’s coco sugar production has since doubled.

These days, “a lot of farmers in the area have motorcycles, which they use for daily commuting, while others were able to send all their children to school, without compromising their other basic needs,” Pejoro, beaming with pride, says.

She adds the good things happening at the cooperative were brought in by their participation in government-sponsored trade fairs in the past, such as the International Food Exhibition (Ifex) in 2010.

To boost its marketing strategy, Lampco also adopted the tagline “Coco Sugar: A Smart Way to be Healthy.”

The Mindanao Development Authority (Minda), which has been assisting emerging ventures as Lampco’s, says in a statement that at the recent Market Week Philippines, Lampco was the top grosser in terms of sales and total amount of orders placed.

Market Week Philippines was a trade fair and showground of on-sale world-class items and products, Minda, Malacañang’s development arm in the south, says.

Minda says like Lampco, it—along with the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Agriculture—is also assisting 70 other Mindanao-based food producers, exporters and processors to participate in next year’s Ifex—the largest gathering of emerging and established businesses in the country.

Pejoro adds Lampco knew the importance of Ifex, which was why the cooperative will be participating in it anew next year.

“It was during our first Ifex participation in 2010, when we were able to close a deal with various coco sugar consolidators in Manila, which demanded up to five tons of coco sugar per month,” she says.

Pejoro adds that clinching the deals during the first Ifex was considered “a huge leap for the cooperative given its humble produce of at least three kilos per day at the beginning.”

“We are currently producing at least 10 tons per month, and we are thrilled by this increased demand for healthy and organic sugar,” she cites.

Another good thing that came to Lampco, Pejoro points out, was the recent certification of its coco sugar by Iberica Ambicert, the Spain-based subsidiary of organic-products certifier Ecocert, as carbon-neutral and genuinely organic.

The Europe-based Ecocert is recognized worldwide—including by the US Food and Drugs Administration—for its credible identification of products as purely organic.

Lampco’s Pejoro states the shift to coco sugar production was not an easy path for the cooperative, whose members were mainly copra producers.

First, she says they had to hurdle the mindset that copra production was easier as one only needed to harvest mature coconuts on a trimester basis.

“Coco sap, the main ingredient for the coco sugar, needs to be harvested at least three times a day,” she says.

Another thing, Pejoro says, was that their members were initially against using organic materials in their coco farms because it was perceived as more labor extensive.

“This means huge additional work for the farmers, but when they realized that it was a better source of income, they eventually joined the loop,” Pejoro adds.

Other things that helped convince Lampco members to shift to coco sugar production was the continuous prodding and assistance from government agencies, including the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).

Such that today, it’s not only family members who help each other gather sap.

At the cooperative’s packing area, they help one another in packing coco sugar by kilo and sachets.

Pejoro says they were looking forward to the day when Lampco members and those in neighboring villages could buy more than just motorcycles and would be able to send their children even to expensive and exclusive schools.

She adds as far as they were concerned, it was not a farfetched projection.

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  • laluzcinco

    Ginang Maria Pejora, Binabati ku kayo sa malaking grasya na binigay nang Dios sa inyung familia at sa lahat nang taung inyung natutulungan. Sana po tuluy- tuluy ang inyung tagumpay nang sa ganun maraming kapwa Pilipino magkaron nang trabajo.

    Ingatan ninyung maigi ang inyung Pinundar at HUWAG KAILAN MAN mapunta sa kamay nang mga Intsik na marunung at sanay manloko sa ibang tao.

    Laging ingat lang po.

  • GregAtari

    Great story. It’s uplifting to read good news from Mindanao.

  • 1voxPopuli

    i love success stories.

  • tabingbakod

    Don’t bet against an idea only because it requires more work. Consider that they are Filipinos.

    This is an awesome story except for the at very end. Why do they have to dream about sending their kids to an exclusive school? A community with a growing income should lift the quality of their own community public school.

    The problem with exclusive school is that a percentage of the tuition goes to profit that benifits only an individual or corporation. Also, the families in the community that do not have money are left out. Kids are left out. Why not pay community taxes which is less than tuition fee for a private school and use it to improve the public schools

    Now that the economy is growing, we should start thinking of what direction to take. Developing our public school system is a better way for the society.

    • http://www.facebook.com/chaomarco Marconi de Leon

      sana madami makabasa ng comment mo. :)

    • athenapallas

      You got a very hefty point there. That’ s probably why we are a third world country is because of this kind of selfishness that permeates amongst most of us – there is a tremendous amount of sacrifice but only for the welfare of family but not the community. Japan became very successful after the devastations it has suffered int he past, but because of its sense of sacrifice for the community which extends to the country itself, it has emerged as one of the most advanced and affluent nations. We must all learn how to think of others in our community by helping and supporting one another.

  • koolkid_inthehouse

    Sweet success!

  • Gerald Agapito

    Coco sugar is much better and healthier than regular sugar.

  • WAUNAKEE

    With the appropriate support from the government, cooperatives are the surest way to empower Filipinos toward their economic productivity and social advantage. Of course, resistance to change by the stakeholders should be hurdled first, but it is doable as exemplified by the partnership between Lampco, the government and other economic supporters like Ifex. Kudos to all concerned for a job well done!

  • koolkid_inthehouse

    Real Filipino. Cheers!

  • batangpaslit

    Salamat naman at merong Mindanao Development Authority na tumulong sa production, at ang IFEX sa marketing aspect.
    Merong natural resource ang Pilipinas to produce coco sugar, kasi, the country grows coconut.
    Sana ang Philippine Coconut Authority would revitalize the coconut industry.
    Buri palm is a good source of sugar sap too. Mas matamis pa nga ang buri sap kesa niyog.

    • Nars Alcantara

      @batangpaslit you are correct Buri sap is more sweeter than that of coconut’s. However, you only can tap the sap only after a century. Buri bears flowers after a hundred years and it is the end of its life, after flowering it dies. So logically not viable

  • what_is_going_on

    Fantastic story…I hope these grassroot ideas grow and flourish.The Philippines has so many great natural resources, that the Filipino people can become the world’s supermarket for it’s products. This will greatly help the Filipino people and the economy.

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