(This report was made possible with support from the Philippine Press Institute (PPI)-HSF under its 2021 Fellowship Program on Civic Journalism.)
Pala’wan tribes producing the locally famous pineapples from Bataraza are facing income losses due to decreased demand this year as a consequence of the current pandemic.
Based on the records of the Municipal Agriculture Office (MAO) of Bataraza, there are 237 indigenous peoples (IPs) dependent on farming pineapples in their town on 733 hectares (ha) of land as of 2020. The majority of farmers are from Barangay Bulalacao with 122 IPs.
Peneng Mansari, 45, recalled that when she started venturing into pineapple farming in Sitio Taludtod, Barangay Bulalacao in Bataraza, only a few were interested until their number grew over time. Pineapple farming is the main livelihood that helped Peneng and her husband raise their six children.
“Kaunti lang din ang nagtatanim niyan noon hanggang sa marami na ang nakasubok niyan. Kasi kung walang pinya, wala rin maasahan na hanapbuhay. Anim na buwan bago siya ma-harvest,” Peneng said.
Planting of pineapple, or “parangue,” in Palawan was only seasonal years ago, as it could only fruit in May, or at the very least, in August.
Not until IP farmers started to use “kalburo”, or calcium carbide, to help the pineapple bear fruits all year round. The peak season hits from June to July, and the harvest is every five to six months.
“May nabibili na kasi na pabunga—‘yong kalburo. Parang bato siya, tubigan mo, ibuhos mo sa pinya tapos hintayin mo ng isang buwan at kalahati, lalabas na ‘yong bunga niya. Wala rin epekto (sa lasa), kung anong bunga, ‘yan din. Mas mabilis lang ang paghinog,” she added.
Pala’wan farmers said that they are not using fertilizer on their plants and they practice ‘kaingin’ or upland farming in pineapple.
Pre-pandemic market for pineapples
Harvested pineapples are carried by a hired individual through a “kantuwangan”, or a stick that can carry 24, 20, or 28 pieces balanced at both ends depending on sizes. The farmers are hiring someone to carry down each kantuwangan for P100 to P150 per person.
Peneng and other IP farmers used to earn a minimum of P500 to P600 per kantuwangan. During harvest, a hired guy can bring at least 10 kantuwangan to the buying station from a single farm. This helps them earn P8,000 per harvest.
“Malaking pasalamat na namin ‘yan—kapag bumibili kami ng bigas, may isda na. Ang matira, ‘yon na lang ang pang-alkansya — kung walang pinya, walang trabaho. Tambay ka lang sa bahay. Lalo na kung netibo at walang pinya, mahirap,” she said.
“Kung hindi dahil sa pinya, hindi makabahay ng maganda. Hindi ka makabili ng gamit. Tama lang muna na kubo-kubo ang bahay noong wala pa ang pinya. Hindi ka makabili ng maraming plato, kaldero. Pero ngayon may pinyahan, ‘yong nabibili mo ay nabibili na rin ng mga kasama mo kasi parehas na kayong may pinyahan,” she said.
Top pineapple producing town
Municipal agriculturist Virginia Genilan said that through the “One Town, One Product” program of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) years ago, the pineapple slowly established the image of Bataraza as the top producing town in Palawan.
According to MAO, the town has an average annual production of 978,552 kilos. In Bataraza, Brgy. Bulalacao has the highest number of IP farmers at 122, followed by Tarusan with 62, Malihud with 33, Bonobono, and 10 in Culandanum.
It was first showcased in the Baragatan Festival of Palawan and eventually hit the tourist market. In 2019, the Bataraza local government unit (LGU) launched the annual pineapple festival.
The LGU also established a processing center to process the pineapple into various value-added products that can compete in the commercial market. However, it is not supplied outside of town due to the pandemic.
Impact of pandemic on IP farmers
Olivia Mansari, Peneng’s daughter-in-law, also exposed herself to the pineapple after their marriage five years ago. She observed that in 2021, the market drastically changed due to the decreasing demand experienced in absence of main consumers such as tourists.
“Kapag meron kang pinya, kung sabay-sabay kayo nag-harvest ng kasama mo, wala na magbili. May magbili pero P250 na lang o P200 isang kantuwang. Bigyan mo pa ‘yong naghakot ilan na lang sa’yo? Tag-P100 kayo. Kapag may kasabay ka nagpabunga, may kasabay ka rin mag-harvest,” Olivia said.
The price per kantuwangan slowly decreased from around P200 to P300, which only gave them P1,000 in earnings.
“Naiintindihan din naman namin kaya kung anong sinabi nila, ganon na lang din ang bentahan namin kaysa mabulok. Hindi naman lahat sa amin makabiyahe pa-Puerto, walang kaalam-alam,” she said.
The decreased demand for pineapple also convinced middlemen to temporarily decline buying from IPs, which left the latter with no other choice but to walk down from the mountain and sell outside the town.
They went to the nearest town in Bataraza, Brooke’s Point, and had to pay P3 per pineapple that they loaded into trucks. They can sell pineapples at P100 each and earn at least P3,000, which is impossible to earn if they only depend on the trend of pricing experienced this year.
Trying to earn more, some of them, like Olivia, are going to Puerto Princesa, which is almost four to five hours away from Bataraza, just to sell pineapple.
“Sinubukan na namin kasi hindi na bumibili buyer namin dito, wala na rin kami panggastos. Naglako na lang kami sa Brooke’s, naglakad kami—ilang linggo din ako hindi nakakauwi. Nagpapadala lang sila ng pinya,” she said.
“Maraming nabulok, hindi na mabilang. Minsan ang maliliit, inaapakan na lang. Hindi lang bente kantuwangan, kapag minsan binubutas ng mga daga, hindi na namin kinukuha. Pinapabayaan na lang namin hanggang mabulok. Tagain hanggang magsupling, ‘yon ang ipabunga mo naman,” she added.
Instead of just watching some of the ripe pineapples go to waste due to the absence of buyers, some of those fruits were turned into vinegar and sold to the markets of Brooke’s Point for P20 to P100.
Middlemen also affected
For seven years, it was routine for Margie Bolivar to buy the pineapple products of IPs and supply them to her buyers in Puerto Princesa. Aside from the demands of tourists in El Nido, she is also supporting different buyers in the city, most of whom are in the public market.
Like the rest of the locals, Margie didn’t expect the pandemic to last for almost two years and lost her usual six buyers to two. From a profit of P6,000, they can only have P500 to P1,000 now.
“Ngayon talagang taon, ayan talaga. Grabeng lugi namin, nalulugi rin kaming mga namimili. May mga hindi rin nagbabayad sa amin. Malaki kung sa lugi,” Margie said.
“Pang-araw-araw na lang talaga namin ito, bagsak talaga. Pantawid na lang, wala na kami ‘yong nakakatabi, nakakaipon. Magtitiyaga ka na lang siguro, magtitipid ka na lang pero talagang hindi katulad noon,” she added.
As a buyer and also a vendor herself, she understands and sympathizes with the situation of farmers and hopes that their struggles will end soon.
The MAO cited that the absence of tourists coming from international and domestic travelers is one of the factors of the decreased demand for pineapple. To temporarily aid the problem, the LGU bought pineapples in 2020 in celebration of the annual pineapple festival to distribute in the community.
“During the time ay peak harvest, nagkakaroon sila ng surplus ng mga produkto. Dumating ang time ng pandemic, mahina na ang bentahan gawa ng limited na ang biyahe, biyahero na dumadaan. Noong hindi pa istrikto ang pagbiyahe, maraming buyers,” Genilan said.
“Gawa nong bumawas na, nabawasan na rin market nila. Maraming nabubulok, ‘yong time na ‘yan ay peak harvest ng pinya,” she added.
Genilan said that their intervention could be the support to enhance the pineapple vinegar produced by farmers out of ripe pineapple which is no longer in marketable condition.
Julius Esteban, an agricultural technologist, said that farmers did not bring their smaller pineapples down to the buying station as they were not marketable. According to estimates, an income reduction of 40 to 50 percent was observed.
“Nasa 40 percent siguro (kawalan) kasi ang dating tag-P1000 na kantuwangan, nagiging P600 to P700 lang na off season na tayo. Ang pinakamataas na nila ay P700 lang na good size, halos 50 percent nga. Ang small ay hindi na binaba—ginawang suka,” he said.
Good quality pineapple usually rates at P1,400 per kantuwangan during the off-season but it dropped to P700 in current trade. Each kantuwangan with large pineapple has eight, 10, or 12 pineapples.
Olivia and Peneng see that if the pandemic continues until next year, it could cause the fall of the Bataraza pineapple industry in the eyes of Palaw’an farmers.
They are hoping that the demand will increase in December so they can also put meals on their tables during the holiday season.