FARMERS in the village of Lumbaan in Pinili, Ilocos Norte are increasing their cultivation of cotton, reviving a crop that had nearly disappeared from the area, which is known as a center of traditional weaving.
The resurgence is largely due to the efforts of local native Joven Cuanang, a neurologist who retired from his medical practice at St. Luke’s Hospital and two years ago convinced a few local farmers to try planting cotton seeds in addition to their staple crops such as rice, tobacco, and vegetables.
One of five farmers initially trying cotton farming, Marjo Galinato of Barangay Lumbaan planted cotton on a half-hectare of his land, expanding his planting to his entire 2.5 hectares after one season, alternating cotton with rice.
Comparing the yield of both crops, Galinato reported that his gross income of P350,000 for one harvest of cotton was more than double the income from his rice crop per year.
Galinato said that one hectare of cotton required about P30,000 of capital but “it is very rewarding because it is not labor-intensive and it can be harvested after a period of four months.”
Cotton, preferred for the “inabel” loom weaving of the Ilocos region, was supplanted by more profitable tobacco crops as well as cheaper synthetic fibers from China, Cuanang explained.
Cuanang is banking on the expertise and name recognition of master loomweaver Magdalena Gamayo, aged 93, who hails from Pinili to brand cotton and the products produced from it in the area.
“The whole world is looking for products which are organic, ecologically sensitive and handcrafted by people. So, with a brand like Magdalena Gamayo, we need to help them (local community) in developing the production chain,” Cuanang said.
In 2012, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) recognized Gamayo as a “national treasure” for her excellence in textile weaving.
The local cotton industry, which has expanded from five to 25 farms over the past year according to Cuanang, will also benefit from research being conducted by the Philippine Fibers Development Authority (PhilFIDA), which concluded field trials of genetically-modified bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) cotton in several locations in Luzon and Mindanao earlier this year.
Bt cotton is an insect-resistant transgenic crop designed to combat cotton bollworm.
PhilFIDA said that the average yield of the Bt cotton in field tests was 3 metric tons per hectare, compared to the 1 to 2 metric ton average yield of existing local varieties.
PhilFIDA has applied a commercialization certification from the Bureau of Plant Industry for the Bt cotton, and is planning a series of demonstrations for cotton producers in Ilocos, Pangasinan, Nueva Ecija, Saranggani, and South Cotabato, involving a total of 40 one-hectare farms.