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Conservation and Sustainable Utilisation of Underutilised Taro to Increase Food Security and Improve Livelihoods of Marginalised Communities Faced with Climate Change

Hidelisa D. de Chavez, Roland M. Atanante, Maria Lea H. Villavicencio, Michelle Lyka V. Descalsota, Jonathan C. Descalsolta, Richard T. Hermoso and Michelle L. Moldez

Free-flowing water in unbunded lowland taro production system for fresh leaves and petioles

Growing along the path of spring, cool waters flowing freely from Mayon Volcano, are green and healthy taro or 'natong' as locals call it. Taro is being cultivated throughout Albay but major growing municipalities and cities include Legazpi City, Daraga, Camalig, and Tabaco City. Albay farmers are very proud of their taro varieties having the best eating quality compared to taro varieties from other areas because these are grown in cool and clean spring water flowing throughout the year.

The barangay of Budiao in Daraga is very famous for its taro variety called Inoroon. According to the locals, the petioles and leaves of this variety are very tender when cooked. In Legazpi City, they have a variety called Duguan (means bloody) because when the petioles are cut, the sap immediately turns to red after a few seconds. Farmers do not use fertilizer since they believe that the soil is very fertile and the flowing water is very clean. These are volcanic soils favorable for the growth of root crops like taro. Since their taro are always healthy, they do not apply pesticides. They just manually remove petioles and leaves which appear as diseased or infested with aphids.

When pinangat and laing are mentioned, these are almost synonymous with the Bicol Region culture as a whole. Pinangat is a native dish made of whole taro leaves wrapped in layers then cooked in coconut cream. Laing, is also a native dish made of fresh or dried taro leaves with or without petioles (stalks) cooked in coconut cream. To complete the Bicolano stamp, hot chillies are added to these taro dishes.

Majority of restaurants in Albay serve pinangat and laing. Shops sell freshly cooked or frozen pinangat along Camalig national highway for locals and tourists alike. Frozen pinangat made its way to the export market catering many Filipinos working outside the Philippines. These products became a major source of livelihood for many people in Albay.

Camarines Sur
Bunded taro lowland production system for dried taro leaves

Over large tract of lands planted to lowland rice in Nabua, Bula and Pili in the province of Camarines Sur, one will not surely miss paddies planted to taro or natong in the Bicolano dialect. The province supplies dried taro leaves not only in the Bicol region but also in Metro Manila and the neighboring provinces of Pampanga, Rizal, Bulacan, Laguna among others. One of the major suppliers of dried taro leaves in Camarines Sur is the Nabua Gabi Farmers Association (NaGFA) based in the municipality of Nabua.

Eighty two charter farmers established NaGFA in 2014 with the goal of consolidating the taro production and marketing in the municipality of Nabua. In 2017, when Mr. Saldy Castillo started his term as the president of the association, he brought major changes in the taro production, management and processing. The NaGFA was awarded with a processing facility, a truck and solar dryers by the Department of Agriculture.

With the help of the association, member farmers currently supply 800-1,000 kilograms of dried taro leaves to its buyers almost everyday. Aside from taro coming from Nabua, their supply of taro leaves come from other municipalities in Camarines Sur like Pili and Camaligan. Their markets also expanded to as far as Metropolitan Manila and neighboring provinces like Rizal, Cavite and Laguna to name a few. These expansions in the supply and demand side ensure the sustainability of their operations.

General Trias, Cavite
From rice to taro production system for fresh taro leaves, petioles and corms

General Trias, in the province of Cavite, used to be a major rice producing area but recently, a large parcel of these areas were converted to taro production. This transformation was influenced by different factors. First, many lands were converted to residential subdivisions, thus water is not favorable anymore for rice production according to survey respondents. Taro production areas can be found at the borders of subdivisions. Second, migrants from the Bicol region taught the local CaviteƱos how to grow taro. The Bicol region is famous for taro as they produce two of the most famous taro native dishes pinangat and laing. Third, these Bicolanos who taught them how to grow taro also buy and sell their produce thus, providing them a ready market.

Fourth, Gen. Trias is nearer to big urban markets in the National Capital Region like Pasay, Bicutan and Manila compared to other taro-producing areas. They also supply local big trading posts (bagsakan), like the Kadiwa market, in Dasmarinas, Cavite. Fresh taro petioles, leaves and corms are sold along the national highways in stalls. Fifth, taro runners are gathered weekly which provide them cash for their daily household needs compared to rice where they have to wait for four months before they can harvest. Sixth, taro production is similar to rice production in that they are both planted in lowland (submerged) condition in linear fashion enclosed in plots but taro requires less water than rice. Seventh, taro also requires lesser inputs like fertilizers and pesticides compared to rice thus, lesser capital. Lastly, the presence of enterprising CaviteƱo who saw the opportunity of earning more income. With these favorable conditions, one will expect that more lands will be converted to taro in the coming years.

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