At the foothills of Mt. Apo, growing anthuriums has put more food on the table

BATASAN, Makilala, North Cotabato (MindaNews/31 October) — They came down the mountain road on a tractor, on horseback or on foot — Lumads and non-Lumads — a thick bunch of newly-harvested anthuriums in their hands or on top of their heads, or a bukag (large basket) of those red, white and pink cutflowers on their heads or shoulders.

They did not come from a plantation where hectares and hectares of land are planted to anthurium (Anthurium andraeanum) under temperature-controlled shade houses with water sprinklers. They came to the buying station here from their small farms or backyards or their neighbors’ farms uphill where anthuriums are planted under coconut, coffee or cacao trees, under the shade of bananas, and other trees such as lanzones and yes, even durian.

BASKETS IN BLOOM. Farmers deliver a basket full of anthuriums to a buying station in Purok 3, Barangay Batasan, Makilala, North Cotabato province. BASKETS IN BLOOM. Farmers deliver a basket full of anthuriums to a buying station in Purok 3, Barangay Batasan, Makilala, North Cotabato province.

When MindaNews visited this village on the foothills of Mt. Apo on Wednesday morning, October 28, the buying station was a beehive of activities with kalag-kalag (All Saints and All Souls Days) only a few days away. Wave after wave of harvesters arrived, a heavy downpour notwithstanding, the “counters” (those who count the stems) eagerly awaiting to do their work while a group of “baloters” (that’s how they call those who wrap the flowers by the dozen using old newspapers) patiently go through the rhythm of putting a small square of newspaper cutting between the spathes, before wrapping and labeling them XL for extra large, L for Large, M for Medium, S for Small, XS for Extra Small, and SS for Super Small.

Already, 7,000 dozens of anthuriums had been transported by bus to Cagayan de Oro, another 7,000 dozens to Iligan City, and 5,000 to Butuan, says Marilyn Catamoro, a 30-year old Bagobo Tagabawa who is one of three local buyers – all of them siblings.

Datu Bienvenido Macalos harvests anthurium flowers at a farm in Purok 4, Barangay Batasan, Makilala, North Cotabato. Datu Bienvenido Macalos harvests anthurium flowers at a farm in Purok 4, Barangay Batasan, Makilala, North Cotabato.

Datu Bienvenido “Boy” Macalos, also a Bagobo Tagabawa, dreams their organization, the Batasan Bagobo Association, would supply anthuriums to other parts of the country as well, including Manila where these cutflowers command a higher price.

Aside from anthuriums, their association sells bananas, coconut husk, tomatoes and other vegetables, and baskets.

HITCHING A RIDE. Anthurium harvesters ride a tractor that ferries them from their farm to the buying station. HITCHING A RIDE. Anthurium harvesters ride a tractor that ferries them from their farm to the buying station.

According to the Datu, “ang anthurium, daku ug tabang sa pangbuhian sa Lumad ug sa dili Lumad” (anthuriums are a big help in the livelihood of the Lumads and anon-Lumads here).

Aside from Barangay Batasan, other barangays in Makilala that are growing anthuriums include New Israel, Old Bulatukan, New Bulatukan, Kisante, Biangan, Malasila and Buena Vida.

He explained that while bananas are still a main source of income for many, there’s more food on the table now because anthuriums provide them a regular source of additional income.

Nelly de Vera, 38, a Tagabawa with seven children, has been planting and selling anthuriums for two years now. She told MindaNews at the buying station of Catamoro that she now earns at least 300 pesos a week from selling her anthuriums.

Before getting into anthuriums, Nelly’s earnings from selling bananas could hardly put food on the table – food other than bananas, that is.

Datu Rodel Gerarman, 31, started planting and selling anthuriums in 2010 and has been earning at least 500 pesos a week. In the past, he relied on bananas for income.

Macalos says bananas sell for five pesos a kilo and takes three months to harvest. Anthuriums have long shelf life than bananas although unsold bananas can be eaten or used as hog feed.

The rain did not stop the harvesters in bringing their goods to a buying station. Anthuriums cost 40 to 95 pesos per dozen. The rain did not stop the harvesters in bringing their goods to a buying station. Anthuriums cost 40 to 95 pesos per dozen.

Last Monday was a major feat for Macalos’ group. They shipped out 109 dozens of anthuriums to a buyer in Manila for a price several times higher than the prevailing market price here.

Better prices for the anthuriums would mean more benefits for residents, the Datu adds.

The flowers were sent via a commercial courier and delivered at the buyer’s doorstep .

“Unta, maka-supply mi pirmi sa Manila” (We hope we can supply Manila regularly), the Datu hopes.

Farmer Rico Lim and his wife Evelyn started growing anthuriums in 2008. They have two children, one of whom is now in college in a private university in Davao City.

The best part about growing anthuriums, Lim says, is that the capital required is small (the planting material costs only P10 pesos, the imported variety is a bit higher but under 20 pesos), you can plant them in your backyards, and “it is forever.”

The plant is a perennial and harvest is all year-round.

Evelyn Lim harvests anthurium flowers at her farm in Barangay Batasan, Makilala, North Cotabato where she also grows fruit trees like durian, mangosteen and lanzones. The tropical trees provide a good shade for her anthuriums. Evelyn Lim harvests anthurium flowers at her farm in Barangay Batasan, Makilala, North Cotabato where she also grows fruit trees like durian, mangosteen and lanzones. The tropical trees provide a good shade for her anthuriums.

Catamora says the peak times for orders of anthurium are from October to March – for All Saints and All Souls days, Christmas, Valentines and Graduation.

Nearing kalag-kalag, the price of anthurium is ten pesos more per dozen, she says.

Orders from their buyers in Cagayan and Iligan on ordinary days range from 1,000 to 2,000 dozens a week while in Butuan and Surigao, the orders are between 500 and 800 dozens a week.

The orders increase again when there are special occasions in the areas of the buyers. She says their buyers send their orders via text message.

GOOD HARVEST. Evelyn Lim shows her harvest of anthurium flowers which is being sold for 40 pesos per dozen at a buying station in Barangay Batasan, Makilala, North Cotabato in this photo taken on October 28, 2015. GOOD HARVEST. Evelyn Lim shows her harvest of anthurium flowers which is being sold for 40 pesos per dozen at a buying station in Barangay Batasan, Makilala, North Cotabato in this photo taken on October 28, 2015.

For Catamora, “ok kaayo ang anthurium raising kay every week gyud ka maka-income. Ma-supplyan gyud nimo mga needs sulod sa balay. Maka-savings pa gyud ka if naa monthly salary imong husband. Dili na sya makaon daan nga wala pa’y sweldo” (Anthurium raising is okay because you will really earn income every week. You can supply the needs of your household. And you can even save if your husband has a monthly income. Unlike before when you’re already in debt for food even before the next payday).

With prices of rubber and copra down, growing or harvesting anthuriums is a good source of income. Harvesters earn P180 on a pakyaw (negotiated) basis.

But growing anthuriums is not only putting more food on their table and sending more children to college. Catamora notes that several neighbors now own motorcycles on installment basis, thanks to anthuriums. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)