Hidelisa D. de Chavez, Roland M. Atanante, Maria Lea H. Villavicencio, Michelle Lyka V. Descalsota, Jonathan C. Descalsota, Richard T. Hermoso and Michelle L. Moldez
Oriental Mindoro is one of largest suppliers of taro in the Philippines and behind this are great women who are true pillars of strength in taro production who seek ways to make the industry more sustainable, profitable, mutually beneficial and culturally inclusive.
They say that taro like any other rootcrop is a woman's crop. Three women of Oriental Mindoro are featured here to highlight the important roles that they play in the production and marketing of this crop.
Mrs. Ana Renee Manrique is the General Manager of DryTech Manufacturing Inc. based in Centro Biga, Calapan City. Her company produces dried taro leaves sourced from Oriental Mindoro. She has 11 staff working for DryTech factory and 20 agents supplying her fresh taro leaves. Her company can produce approximately 1.5 tons of taro leaves per year. She supplies taro leaves to selected supermarket outlets and restaurants serving taro dishes. She markets the dried taro leaves as pesticide-free products. Mrs. Manrique exports her products to Australia and parts of the Middle East among others. Her company participated in trade fairs, exhibits and market conventions where she was able to find markets for her products particularly for clients from abroad. She is pushing into the establishment of a taro farmers’ cooperative which she temporarily named Bayanihan ng Maggagabi ng Mindoro (Community of Taro Farmers in Mindoro) to help farmers to be more competitive. She hopes that concerned Philippine government agencies will support taro farmers particularly in storage, sorting, packaging, and occupational safety and health.
Mrs. Larissa Posas of San Teodoro has a 10-year experience as a taro farmer and entrepreneur. She started as an agent for a local taro supplier. She supplies fresh taro leaves to DryTech Manufacturing Inc. in Calapan City and dried taro leaves to another factory in Cavite. She has 20 agents/gatherers (many of whom belong to the Mangyan tribe) in San Teodoro who supply good quality and disease-free taro leaves. The gatherers obtain leaves of wild taro plants from natural stands in sloping areas, river banks and pasture areas far from ricelands because these are free from fertilizers and pesticides. She can readily assemble and sell 100 kilograms of fresh taro leaves for small orders daily. She can supply a minimum of 1,000 kilograms of fresh taro leaves during regular season up to 3,000 kilograms during peak season for bulk orders. Annually, her taro leaves are being tested for pesticide residues to be able to pass the organic certification required by her clients. Larissa is trying to organize taro farmers to form an association to be able to gain access to government support services like drying machines. This will greatly help them to be able to dry taro leaves during the rainy season when supply of taro leaves is very low and the demand is high thus, making dried taro leaves more profitable. This will also lessen spoilage during transport of fresh taro leaves. Taro is very important according to Larissa because it is a sustainable livelihood. It is a livelihood that you can pass on to younger generations. Taro production will be sustainable according to Larissa as long as young unfurled leaves (shoots) are left in the field.
Mrs. Naty Inan is a 40-year old farmer and entrepreneur who has 25 year-experience as a taro farmer and entrepreneur. She has 3 workers in her taro farm which is approximately 2 hectares in Hills of Bongabong, Oriental Mindoro. Aside from her own taro produce, she procures taro from approximately 50 farmers and sells these in Bongabong and Roxas through house-to-house mode of selling. She also sells other root crops like ginger, cassava, yam and cocoyam (variety 'Singapore'). She sells taro in bundles (5-6 plants per bundle) which costs around 1-1.5 USD. Her customers prefer four varieties of taro. First, the Bahian variety, a Mangyan variety with dark or deep purple petioles, named after the Mangyan tribe where she is affiliated with. Second, the China variety. Third, the Green variety with green petioles and fourth, the Puti or Binting Dalaga with white (very light green) petioles. She shared what her parents told her as to the importance of taro in Mangyan culture and people of Mindoro as a whole: "Kung wala nang gabi, wala na ring tao" (If taro vanish, man also vanish). This is because according to her parents, when calamities strike like strong typhoons which frequently hit the province, the only standing crop left is taro for people to feed on to survive.