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Sour Fruit Yields Sweet Success

November 21, 2010

By Leilanie Adriano
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 16:54:00 11/20/2010

TAGUDIN, Ilocos Sur – She might have made lemonade, if lemons were what life threw her. But lemons don’t grow on her side of the world, only calamansi, so Imelda Lopez did even better. She made calamansi juice extract. And calamansi vinegar. And calamansi wine.

Sweet success didn’t come easy however, for the 39-year-old Lopez and the women who joined her in this cooperative venture that has given Tagudin its OTOP (one town one product).

While calamansi (citrofortunella microcarpa) is native to the Philippines and grows abundantly particularly in this town, until about four years ago, selling the fresh sour fruits was the most benefit the townsfolk could derive from it. Ironically, a rich harvest meant a loss for its growers because then prices would drop, and it would not be worth the effort and cost to pack and transport the yield to the trading post. At best, they would have endless calamansi-flavored dishes and citrus scented rooms and kitchens; at worst, they’d have fruits rotting under trees outside their homes.

But Lopez saw an opportunity to turn an occasional backyard nuisance into a productive and thriving industry for some local villagers when she was invited to a livelihood training course on calamansi processing.

“Cooking is my passion,” said Lopez, explaining why she was instantly drawn to the enterprise. Three others from her village had attended the training, and in the beginning they managed to apply what they had learned, but only as a home industry.

Later on, with the support of the municipal government, they organized the Samahan ng Magkakalamansi Development Corporation, a duly registered cooperative to promote sustainable livelihood among calamansi growers and budding entrepreneurs who are interested in calamansi processing.

The cooperative is composed mostly of women and the family of an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW). Among the coop’s 15 members in at least seven rural villages, there are now 70 hectares of calamansi trees. The group tapped several government agencies, including the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Science and Technology to assist them in the processing, packaging and marketing of these sour fruits.

Though an undergraduate, Lopez did not balk at the challenge to manage the cooperative. Always persistent to learn more things when given the opportunity, she obtained a scholarship grant to enroll in the Alternative Learning System program of the Department of Education for eight months. This gave her the confidence to also accept a leadership role in the Calamansi Growers Cooperative established in 2006.

The course helped her handle management and financial matters, but for other skills necessary to cope with other production problems, Lopez had to depend on her innate resourcefulness and ingenuity.

A year ago for instance, she relates, the cooperative suffered losses when they supplied ready to drink calamansi juice to thousands of athletes during the Ilocos Region Athletic Association meet. Their order was worth P83,000, but 3,000 bottles were returned because these had expired. Bulk buyers then started ordering from other suppliers.

This setback was an eye-opener, Lopez said, on the need to develop more product lines. What happens if there is overproduction of calamansi extract and juice, and they are not able to sell everything they produce?

She went back to her kitchen and began to experiment. Adding yeast to the juice extracts, she found, yielded a good vinegar product. Her next thought: if vinegar can be created from calamansi, there must be a unique formula for calamansi wine too.

After undergoing training at the Benguet State University, the premier school in the country for fruit-wine making, Lopez made calamansi wine good enough to sell.

The cooperative has not been wanting in government support and that of the local community. To start their operation, the coop got a donation of a government-owned building. The 15 coop members then contributed at least P2,000 each as capital share for a total of P30,000. The group also managed to solicit P50,000 worth of equipment and cooking utilities from the DOST, while the DTI gave them additional equipment and seminars on product packaging and labeling. To fasttrack the processing of the calamansi juice, the DOST also lent them an extractor machine.

Today, that fledgling enterprise has grown into a sustainable livelihood project. On regular days, said Lopez, their sales account for about P3,000 per week or an equivalent of P12,000 a month. The coop now has an operating capital of about half a million, with their best sellers being calamansi juice concentrate pegged at P75 for each bottle of 500 ml, and ready-to-drink calamansi juice pegged at P18 per 500 ml.

Over the years, the coop has made the calamansi products of Tagudin a buzzword not just in the Ilocos Sur province but in the neighboring provinces of Ilocos Norte, La Union and the National Capital Region. It has even reached China through the coop’s active participation in trade fairs and expositions.

The tree with the sour fruit has yielded sweet rewards for the villagers. For the woman who started it all, this successful venture proves what Lopez has known all along: “Nothing is impossible if you believe you can. do it.” Women’s Feature Service

For inquiries, call or text Imelda Lopez at 0910-6138820.

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