By: Niña Sherylle S. Giron
Cardona, a coastal town in Rizal province is home to one of the most notorious aquatic pests, Eichhornia crassipes locally known as water hyacinth. This plant is an invasive weed that grows abundantly draining oxygen from Laguna Lake and its tributaries resulting in death of many fishes. Hundreds of residents in Cardona can attest to this and one of them is Melissa Reyes, president of the Samahan ng Kababaihan ng Barangay Patunhay, Inc.
It all started in 2013 when Reyes sought the help of incumbent Mayor Bernardo “Jun” P. San Juan to put up a livelihood project for her organization. Like her, the members of SKBPI are dependent on Laguna Lake which is their main source of income. But the fishing folks have not been getting enough harvest to sustain the needs of their families. It was time to be resourceful.
The prayers of SKBPI did not fall on deaf ears. To jumpstart their operation, Mayor San Juan provided the organization with a processing center to house 2 units of manually operated water hyacinth stalk flattener. He also provided linkage with the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Science and Technology thru the Provincial Science and Technology Center-Rizal. SKBP was provided with a technology training on Water Hyacinth Processing and a mechanical dryer designed by the Forest Products Research and Development Institute financed under the DOST Grant-In Aid Program. The dryer was installed to provide standard drying of stalks which are raw materials to hand woven products made from water hyacinth.
Aside from government agencies, NGOs like The Villar Foundation and the Taiwanese owned Magic Clean Company opened market opportunities for the Samahan and a sister coop with members from the LGU called the Looc Water Lily Coop. For years now, The Villar Foundation has been buying all their mats which are distributed to victims of calamities like the Yolanda victims in Tacloban City. While the Magic Clean Company buys de-fibered stalks which are made into high end wall coverings and then shipped to 48 countries around the globe.
“Our town used to produce only 25,000 dried stems a week but now we can dry as much as 50,000 stems and we don’t have to wait for the sun to shine”, says Reyes. SKBPI has not only provided sustainable income for Cardona families but also contributes to the protection of Laguna Lake. After receiving their recognition, SKBPI members are keen on not sitting on their laurels.