Amy Gapuz had a profitable business trading on cashew, Palawan’s major agricultural product. Her souvenir shop in Roxas town where tourists and travelers en route to the northern tourist destinations of San Vicente or El Nido would stop by for their obligatory pasalubong shopping was turning in profits out of various cashew products she had been producing – roasted, salted, brittle, bandi or the buttered type.
A native of Cuyo where cashew is popularly grown, Gapuz put up her business in 1995. Soon enough she was achieving a modest success that by early 2000 she was already planning to supply an international market – until the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to the business.
“Malaking tulong ang kasuy kasi may hanapbuhay ang mga tao. Dyan din ako nakapatapos ng anak namin na apat sa kolehiyo awa ng Diyos,” she said.
Nowadays, however, there are no more tourists because of the travel ban and there is very little local demand for cashew. To make ends meet, Gapuz decided to strip her establishment and converted it into an “ukay-ukay” used clothing shop.
“Kasuy lang talaga ang pinagkakakitaan namin sa tagal ng panahon. Ngayong nagkaroon ng COVID-19 ay gumawa na kami ng talipapa at ‘yong shop ay nilagyan ng mga ukay na lang para may pagkakitaan kami sa araw-araw,” she told Palawan News.
She decided not to completely leave her business, but scaled it down while waiting for the pandemic to clear out.
“Dito na namin ginagawa ang mga products, may mga orders din sa amin. Ang mga nagbabalat ng kasuy ay dinadala na nila sa mga bahay nila kasi nga may online class ang mga anak nila kaya gusto nila mabantayan. Dati nasa 45 sila ngayon ang nasa planta ay nasa sampu na lang sila,” she said.
Nanette Ogaya is another entrepreneur who owns Nanette Kasuy Products. She said her family lost a monthly income of around P40,000 after the pandemic struck.
“Malaki din talaga ang natulong ng kasuy sa amin, nakapundar kami ng sasakyan, bahay. Mga babuyan kami at kasuyan pero mas malaki po ang kita naming sa kasuy, malakas ang kasuy namin dati pero ngayon malaking kawalan kasi halos kalahati ang nawala na buwanang kita namin,” she said.
Mary Jane Buaya, a 41-year old mother, said she has was making regular income in the cashew processing business for around 10 years.
“Pupulutin tapos ibibilad, bibiyakin na sana P40 per kilo rin. Lulutuin tapos babalatan—halos P25 to P30 per kilo. Minsan nakaka 60 kilos ako kaya kung tag dyes ay may 600 din ako. Tumataas at bumababa din ang presyo ng kasuy, paiba-iba,” she said.
She said that her work help their family to sustain their daily needs and even able to send their children to school.
“Napapasma din ako kasi minsan nakakalimutan ko humahawak ako ng tubig. Pero malaking tulong talaga ang kasuy sa amin kasi dito na kami kumukuha ng pangtustos sa pang araw-araw at sa pag-aaral ng mga anak ko,” Buaya said.
The local cashew industry has yet to quantify the actual losses it had incurred due to the sudden halt of tourism activities in Palawan. But authorities concerned are hoping that this agricultural sector will be able to rebound as soon as it is able to link up once more to its markets mainly because its fundamentals are established.
Dr. Romeo Cabungcal, provincial agriculturist, took note that Palawan’s production of cashew is still the biggest in the country even as it is continually challenged by various factors, including climate change that affects productivity.
“As far as the Philippines is concerned, tayo pa rin ang may pinakamalaking production,” Cabungcal said. He identified the main plantations to be located in Roxas, Dumaran, El Nido, Coron, Busuanga, Linapcan, Taytay and Araceli – all northern Palawan towns.
He noted specifically that Antipolo in Metro Manila which is generally regarded as the main source of cashew within the metropolis, only sources its cashew from Palawan. “Ang cashew from Cuyo ay dinadala sa Antipolo. Yung iba ay dinadala sa ibang areas like in the Visayas,” Cabungcal said.
Cabungcal noted that there has been no definitive studies made on the impact of changing weather patters or climate change factors on Palawan’s cashew production, but adding that that this problems is certainly a major concern.
“Siguro dahil sa pagbago ng panahon din ‘yan, with the pagbabago ng panahon nagbabago ang production ng isang puno. Halimbawa na lang na mainit ngayon at namumulaklak tapos biglang umulan, maapektuhan talaga ‘yan,” Cabungcal said.
Developing cashew plantations and products
Government resources have been used to help Palawan develop its cashew products for value-added, with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) forming local partnerships.
“Nagpa-partner tayo sa DTI in terms of product development kasi ang sa amin ay looking into production aspect. Ang cashew naman ay maraming value added products hindi katulad ng ibang commodities natin,” Cabungcal said.
In Roxas, which is among the biggest producers, the municipality has adopted a pro-active program to increase production through an incentive scheme.
“Mayrong programa ang Roxas na wala sa iba kasi nagre-rely sila sa initiative ng mga private sector. Pero dito, mismo ang munisipyo nagsasabi na magtanim ang mga tao. Binibayaran sila P20 per surviving plant. Meron nga nakareceive ng P25,000 isang tao lang. Nabayaran ka na sa iyo pa lahat ng magiging production,” municipal agriculturist Edgar Padul told Palawan News.
Padul also said that part of their expansion target is to the increase cashew plantations by around 16 hectares per year under their plant-and-pay program.
Based on official data obtained by Palawan News, Roxas produced some 96,992 kilos of cashew in 2020. The town also had 200 hectares of planted tree in 2019, which grew by an additional 130,000 hecateres in 2020.
“16 hectares per year ang aming [target] na dagdag at mayro’n din kaming incentives sa mga nagtatanim ng puno. Around 3,000 cashew farmers ang iba dyan backyard lang ang iba may malapad talaga hindi talaga define. Hindi naman dependent sa kasuy ang Roxas pero 60 percent halos ay rely sa production ang iba sa fishing,” Padul said.
Lagging behind other countries
Librada Fuertes, officer-in-charge of the Department of Agriculture-Palawan Research and Development Station (DA-PRDS) said that Palawan’s cashew contributes around 98 percent of the country’s production and 90 percent of that is from MIMAROPA.
But compared to the other countries, Palawan still has a lot of catching up to do before it could match the capabilities of other cashew producing countries such as India.
“Malayo pa ang ating lalakarin para makasabay sa ibang bansa. Unang-una sa bulk of production kasi dito pa lang sa Palawan lalo na kapag open ang tourism ay makikita mo na talagang kulang ang ating cashew. Ito naman kasi talaga ang most sought pasalubong kasama ang marine products. Kailangan talaga natin ang expansion,” Fuertes said.