BINMALEY, Pangasinan ? The increasing cost of fertilizer and commercial feeds has become a boon to the environment, with fishpond owners and operators going back to organic fertilizer to produce organic food for their cultured bangus (milkfish).
It has also benefited couple Felipe and Alegria Benitez, who buy and sell chicken manure and tobacco dust (actually tobacco leaves rejected by cigarette manufacturers) used to grow lablab, an organic fish feed, in fishponds.
Sales of chicken manure and tobacco dust increase as prices of chemical fertilizer and commercial feeds rise, they say.
The Benitezes have been in the business for almost 40 years, and as of late, more fishpond owners and operators in the province are getting their supplies from them.
Westly Rosario, chief of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources? Dagupan research center, says this is a welcome development because chemical fertilizer and uneaten fish feed are not only costly but they also pollute water.
He says chicken manure is an effective fertilizer to grow lablab ?partly lumot (fibrous plant) and partly plankton (microscopic organisms) that looks like a mat of organic material found on the floor of fishponds.
Tobacco dust as pesticide
Rosario says lablab grows naturally in the fishponds of Dagupan City, but ponds in other areas needed to be fertilized for it to grow. Tobacco dust acts as pesticide that kills unwanted shells in ponds. It turns into fertilizer when it decays.
Fishpond owner Jess Aquino of this town says many of his colleagues have shifted to using more organic fertilizer.
?Chemical fertilizer has become unaffordable for most of us. So we minimized its use and maximized the use of chicken manure,? he says.
He uses tobacco dust only when his ponds are infested with a type of shellfish, locally known as damisil, that eat the lablab, leaving almost nothing for the milkfish.
Aside from saving money by using organic fertilizer and pesticides, Aquino says they are also helping protect the water from pollution. He says chemicals make the ponds acidic, reducing their capacity to grow lablab.
High in protein
?Organic materials condition the ponds, thus more organic food is produced for the fish,? he says.
Lablab is also high in protein, which makes it ideal as fish feeds.
However, it is difficult to grow enough lablab for cultured fish until the harvest season.
Usually, what is produced is good only for about two months (bangus culture takes about three months), and during the last weeks of culture season, the bangus is given commercial feeds, Aquino says.
A disadvantage in using chicken manure is that a fishpond operator has to use truckloads for a hectare as compared to only two sacks of urea, he says.
But this means good business for the Benitezes, who sell chicken manure at P75 to P95 a sack and tobacco dust at P120 a sack.
On their own
According to Alegria Benitez, she and her husband used to be caretakers of a 10-hectare fishpond in Binmaley town for more than 30 years, during which they learned how to use chicken manure and tobacco dust to maximize growth of lablab.
?We started buying and selling the manure and tobacco dust while still employed, until we were able to save enough capital that enabled us to resign and focus on our venture,? she says.
From their savings, the couple bought a piece of land on which they built their house and a stockroom for tobacco dust. They also bought a used truck to transport chicken manure and tobacco dust.
When the truck broke down three years ago, they took out a P200,000 loan using their piece of land as collateral.
The loan was paid off in six months.
The couple buys tobacco dust in La Union and Isabela and chicken dung from poultry farms in Pangasinan.