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Quezon province plants seeds of medicinal agro-industries

‘We are now shifting to a healthier lifestyle. We are more conscious of what we eat and drink’

LUCENA CITY—For Romulo Ayag, an organic farming advocate in Barangay Pili in Sariaya town of Quezon province, herbal plant agriculture offers farmers a bright promise.

“Farming nowadays can reap millions of pesos if one hits the jackpot,” Ayag says.

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A son of a farmer couple from Lobo, Batangas, the 58-year-old Ayag has four children—three of them working abroad while the youngest had just returned from an overseas job to join him in the farming business.

Half of the family’s two-hectare farm is planted with “pinakbet” (an IIocano dish) vegetables while the remaining half is devoted to turmeric (yellow ginger) and siling labuyo (chili pepper), which are not only popular as a food additives but known for their healing properties.

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Ayag is one of several partners or “cooperators” of the Quezon Herbal Industry Program (QHIP), which the provincial government launched in 2014. The program aims to explore the business potential of growing herbal plants, possibly an emergent industry in the country.

Walter Dapla, QHIP coordinator, says the provincial agriculture office introduced the program as an alternative livelihood program to residents during a rehabilitation caravan, which the provincial government led in areas devastated by Typhoon “Glenda” (international name: Rammasun) in 2014.

“The response was very positive. Many were interested, especially local government officials,” Dapla says.

The provincial agriculture office chose six towns—Sariaya, Tayabas, Pagbilao, Padre Burgos, Agdangan and General Luna—as pilot areas for the program where planting materials like lemongrass (tanglad), turmeric, chili pepper, moringa (malunggay) and lagundi (Vitex negundo) were distributed.

A farmer who wants to be a cooperator should own an easily accessible farm land with an adequate water source. “But most importantly, the farmer is willing to learn,” Dapla says.

The program will provide cooperators with training, seminar and technical support from agricultural technicians and experts.

After harvest, the cooperators are not obliged to pay back the provincial government from their earnings. Instead, QHIP will help farmers sell their harvest.

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“All earnings will remain with the cooperator so they can shoulder the cost of the next planting season,” he says.

Further, the provincial government aims to establish a processing facility in Pagbilao to serve as drying and grounding area for medicinal plants.

Quezon Gov. David Suarez, in an executive order, created the QHIP committee composed of different government agencies, academic institutions and representatives from the private sector that drew up an Herbal Industry Development Program.

The program has five major components—research and development, enhancement of herbal production, information and education, promotion and marketing, and agro-enterprise development.

Provincial agriculturist Roberto Gajo, remembers Celso Diaz, former director of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Ecosystem Research and Development Bureau, as saying that herbal plants are sleeping treasures due to their [still to be] fully realized potential.

“QHIP, in some way, provides a response to Dr. Diaz’s challenge of using herbal plants not only [to] address health-related issues, but also contribute to poverty alleviation and the promotion of a healthy environment,” says Gajo.

He adds that hundreds of hectares of farm lands in the province have been planted with medicinal plants.

QHIP has also partnered with the Department of Education’s vegetable garden program in encouraging the cultivation of medicinal plants.

“Through this, students become aware of the uses and importance of medicinal plants,” Gajo says.

Jaime Galvez-Tan, former secretary of the Department of Health and proponent of traditional and natural medicine, says Quezon has the potential to be the Philippines’ center for medicinal plants and to be the first province with agro-industries in medicinal herbs.

Galvez-Tan, a QHIP consultant, noted that with over 1,500 indigenous herbs and plants across the country, herbal medicine could be a multibillion-peso industry, just like in Thailand and Singapore.

The World Health Organization estimates that eight of 10 people across the globe use herbal medicine because it is cheaper and more available than pharmaceutical drugs.

The Philippines’ natural and organic products have an estimated total export value of about $153 million in 2011, government data show.

The major contributors to the sector’s growth are the medicinal plants, and food and personal care segments.

Also, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the therapeutic use of 10 Philippine medicinal plant species. These include lagundi for cough and asthma; sambong, kidney stones; ampalaya, lowering of blood sugar and anti-diabetes; garlic, against cholesterol; guava, oral/skin antiseptic; tsaang-gubat, mouthwash; yerba buena, for pain and fever; niyog-niyogan, parasitic worms; acapulco, antifungal; and ulasimang bato, for uric acid in the blood.

Last year, the provincial government started the construction of the Quezon Adventure Park-Quezon Protected Landscape Herbal Pavilion at the Quezon Protected Landscape (formerly Quezon National Park), along the popular zigzag road in Atimonan town.

The facility will have a QHIP showcase, where various herbal plants will be found. It will also serve as a display center for products produced by different organizations, cooperatives and individuals involved in the herbal medicines program.

“We are now shifting to a healthier lifestyle. We are more conscious of what we eat and drink,” says Suarez, the governor. “I want Quezon province to spearhead and to capitalize on that movement.”

He called on local officials to develop and propagate herbal and medicinal plants and turn this activity into a vibrant industry.

“We will not only earn from it; it will also make our community a lot healthier,” Suarez says.

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