BRCCCFA president Lenny Labindao said that the initiative was established to allow citronella to find a home in their community, which was intended to be a "self-sustaining village."

Citronella farmers in the outlying village of Bahile are optimistic that they will soon recover from the effects of the coronavirus disease, which has impacted their supplementary source of income.

As is the case with many small livelihood projects, the citronella farmers of the Bahile RCC Cintronella Farmers Association (BRCCCFA) are reeling from the effects of being unable to conduct business as a result of social distancing restrictions and health- and economic-driven demand shifts resulting from COVID-19.

Lenny Labindao, the association’s president, said Saturday that the Citronella Plantation and Processing livelihood project they were granted in April 2015 by the Rotary Club of Makati Jose P. Rizal as an additional source of income has lost purchasers for the extracts they are able to generate.

He said that the initiative was established to allow citronella to find a home in their community, which was intended to be a “self-sustaining village.”

“Ang nagsimula talaga nito ay ang the Rotary Club of Makati Jose P. Rizal para may pagkakitaan kami at maging malaki ang pakinabang sa susunod na mga taon,” he said.

Citronella (Cymbopogon nardus) is a tropical Asian perennial scented plant belonging to the Poaceae family, whose extract is used to repel mosquitoes and as a fragrance ingredient. It is also produced as a popular cuisine spice in various Asian nations, such as Indonesia.

Labindao said that prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the additional revenue they gained from planting citronella grasses assisted them in putting food on the table and meeting other family needs.

Every three months, their 1,000-hectare plantation with around 10,000 citronella plants would produce for them over 40 liters of oil extract. Each liter would fetch them P1,500 from buyers in Manila.

According to Labindao, the process of steam distilling raw citronella grass into oil takes about two days.

“Doon namin pinapadala sa Manila, sa may-ari ng NutriPharma,” he said.

“’Yong every three months na ‘yon ay 42 liters ang napapalabas namin, then after three months 42 ulit. One day ang pag-harvest tapos ang pag-produce ng oil ay halos one day rin,” he said.

Their 42-member association is comprised of six groups. They get money from the overall sale price of the citronella oil, of which 5% goes to the association.

“Kumikita kami kapag nabayaran na ng buo ang naipadala namin. Depende kung gaano kalaki ang ma-produce ng kada grupo at kapag nabayaran na ‘yon, kukuha lang ng five percent para sa association tapos ang maiiwan doon ay paghahatian na ng mga miyembro,” Labindao added.

Labindao said their extra livelihood source has never been without challenges; processing ceased for about two years prior to resuming production in 2019.

“Dahil sa kulang sa pinansyal ay nahinto at nakita ‘yon ng Rotary Club, tinulungan kami kaya nabuksan ulit noong 2019,” Labindao said.

Labindao said that they still have many stocks of oil that they are unable to sell due to a lack of customers.

And the longer they are stored, the more they evaporate.

“Wala kaming buyer, huminto ang [dating] buyer namin kaya hindi muna kami nag-produce ng oil lalo na habang tumatagal ay nauubos ang oil [nag-e-evaporate]. Hanggang sa nagkaroon ng pandemya, sarado lahat ng pharmacy niya (Nutripharma) kaya hindi na rin siya nakabalik sa amin. Medyo nahinto na rin muna ang citronella [production] namin. Hindi na kami makalinis ng plantation at may social distancing,” he said.

“Kung may buyer na kami saka na siguro kami gagawa ulit. Pero ang pandemic napakalaki ang naging epekto sa kabuhayan namin na mga taga Bahile,” Labindao lamented.

Meeting families’ needs
To meet their families’ needs, association members are now pursuing alternate sources of income such as farming, fishing, and other labor tasks.

He said they do not have a local market, which makes it tough for them since they are reliant on buyers from outside the province.

They cannot also sell their products locally for a cheaper price.

“Sa ngayon ay extra-extra lang sa karpintero, pangingisda pero minsan hindi naman makalaot dahil sa bagyo. ‘Yon lang,” he said.

“Sa Manila kasi volume ang kuha nila, dito sa local mura ang bili nila kaya lugi kami. Masyado na pong talo ang mga farmers kung ibibigay namin ng mababa sa P1,500 per liter,” Labindao added.

Call for local government support
Labindao is requesting assistance from the local administration since they are facing difficulties.

He said they need financial assistance, and for their livelihood, additional steamer for citronella grass.

“Kung may makakatulong sa amin ay humihingi kami ng dagdag na lutuan ng citronella para mas mabilis ang luto namin. Sa ngayon kasi inaabot ng halos limang oras ang paghintay bago lumabas ang oil,” he said.