Social entrepreneur’s mission of preserving Philippine cinnamon also benefits farmers
Manila Bulletin Publishing Corp
November Canieso-Yeo, a social entrepreneur based in Bacolod, finds this practice unnecessary since there are 19 endemic species of Philippine cinnamon. She discovered this back in 2013 when she returned to Bacolod from Manila. Even before urban gardening became a trend, Caneiso-Yeo has been gardening in her home proper. She also shared her experiences and learned new information through blogging. It was through blogging that Canieso-Yeo learned the truth about Philippine cinnamon. She also discovered the species to be endangered. “Many Filipinos don’t know that we have the Philippine cinnamon. They just know it as kalingag (Cinnamomum mercadoi), and it’s an aromatic tree,” Canieso-Yeo said. The social entrepreneur also added that the kalingag trees are turned into charcoal, or uling in Filipino, causing the trees’ numbers to dwindle. She then saw an opportunity to turn this circumstance into an agribusiness that could benefit everyone. A SOCIAL ENTERPRISE FOCUSED ON THE VALUE CHAIN Canieso-Yeo presently acts as the founder and manager of Plantsville Health: a social enterprise focused on conservation, livelihood, and health. “For the conservation part of the enterprise, we want to preserve Philippine cinnamon. We want to save it from being endangered,” the social entrepreneur said. She added that they hope to achieve this goal by partnering with local farmers, hence the livelihood part of Plantsville Health. Canieso-Yeo began by going to the Negros Occidental Provincial Environment Management Office (PEMO) to ask her friend if they were familiar with kalingag. It turns out there were several trees in Don Salvador Benedicto, but the farmers weren’t fully aware of its potential, causing them to use the kalingag trees for charcoal. The social entrepreneur, through her friend in PEMO, was introduced to the farmers. She then carried out her mission of raising awareness about the Philippine cinnamon for its preservation while convincing the farmers to plant the trees as part of a livelihood program. It seems that luck was also on Canieso-Yeo’s side. PEMO had a project called Integrated Social Forestry (ISF), which urged partner farmers to rehabilitate areas in the province. At that time, the farmers received funding from the LGU because of this project. Canieso Yeo managed to convince the LGU to allot a budget for planting Philippine cinnamon. “That time, in 2017, there were only 50 remaining trees in the town. After the funding, by 2019, they were able to plant 14,000 seedlings,” Canieso-Yeo said. Eventually, the farmers in Don Salvador Benedicto became aware of kalingag because Canieso-Yeo repeatedly educated them about the tree’s use in food, cosmetics, and agriculture. Plantsville Health will then buy the Philippine cinnamon seedlings from the farmers and sell them to the public to raise awareness about its existence. Aside from kalingag seedlings and Philippine cinnamon-based products, Plantsville Health also offers other seedlings such as batuan and ylang-ylang. Canieso-Yeo added that they also buy some of the crops from their partner farmers, but only at a small scale since their main focus is the production and preservation of Philippine cinnamon. HOW FARMERS EARN FROM GROWING KALINGAG The LGU pays the farmers a total of P50 for growing kalingag. They begin by paying the farmers P25, and it was the farmers who decided on the price. The farmers get P15 from bagging kalingag seedlings and another P10 when they plant them. “If you’re a farmer, if you plant 1,000 trees, you get P25,000. Farmers usually earn P5,000 a month, but by growing Philippine cinnamon, they get five months’ worth of income just from planting a thousand trees,” Canieso-Yeo said. She added that the farmers receive P10 after the first year of growing kalingag. The same happens in the second year. But by the third year, the farmers only receive P5 to complete the agreed price of P50. Another opportunity for earning from Philippine cinnamon also presented itself recently. According to the owner and manager of Plantsville Health, there were some donors from Australia who requested planting more kalingag trees for carbon offsetting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Canieso-Yeo asked them for P70 per tree planted. P50 goes to the farmers, while P20 goes to Plantsville Health as a fee. FACING CHALLENGES ALONG THE WAY Despite the success of Canieso-Yeo’s advocacy in preserving the trees, her journey was not without challenges. The first challenge she had to face was convincing the farmers to plant kalingag trees instead of using them for charcoal. She shared that since it was the farmers’ first time meeting her, they were skeptical about her idea. When she met the president of one of the farmer cooperatives in Don Salvador Benedicto, CaniesoYeo learned that the farmers were worried about taking up kalingag because it might cause the number of trees in the province to dwindle. Canieso-Yeo clarified that the goal is the opposite of the farmers’ worries. Growing the kalingag trees will not only increase its numbers in the province but also provide farmers with a source of income. Another obstacle that she had to face when the planting initiative started was the farmers’ payment. But since the LGU is responsible for it, they addressed the problem eventually, allowing farmers to reap the rewards from growing kalingag trees. “I’m glad that more than the challenges, I was also able to get a lot of support from the government and private organizations,” she said. Thanks to her love for gardening, Canieso-Yeo discovered the truth about Philippine cinnamon. And even though she’s only one person who wanted to preserve the endangered native tree, she didn’t let this stop her from teaching farmers about the importance of kalingag, its moneymaking potential, and learning to advocate local species. She also made it possible for consumers to enjoy growing kalingag in their homes, its flavor, and the health benefits of local cinnamon. Did you know that there’s a local counterpart for the cinnamon tree? While many people import the spice, a social entrepreneur named November Canieso-Yeo discovered that the kalingag (Cinnamomum mercadoi) tree, which many farmers ignore or use for charcoal, is the Philippine version of the cinnamon tree. A tree that’s easy to grow The kalingag is a small tree that reaches a height of six to 10 meters. It has a thick and aromatic bark used to make cinnamon. “It’s native to the Philippines and is well-adjusted to the environment. It likes the rain,” Canieso-Yeo said. She added that there are two ways to grow cinnamon: either by sexual or asexual propagation. Sexual propagation is when the trees are grown from seeds, while asexual propagation happens when the trees are grown from cuttings. Plantsville Health sells seedlings grown via sexual propagation. Once customers buy from the social enterprise, Canieso-Yeo advises them to transfer the seedling into a larger pot or plot with rich soil since it will grow into a tree. She will then proceed to tell first-time kalingag growers to place the seedling in a partially shaded area because it can’t tolerate full sun. “We recommend using natural fertilizer because people consume cinnamon. You can use compost or vermicast,” Canieso-Yeo added. Kalingag trees also don’t need to be watered frequently. It can thrive well in an area that receives an abundance of rainfall during the wet season. But in the dry season, Canieso-Yeo suggests watering the trees once or twice a week or if the soil is dry. Mulching is also advised because covering the soil with organic material can preserve moisture and improve soil condition. The health benefits of local cinnamon Within three to six months, the leaves of the kalingag tree are ready for harvest. These can be made into herbal tea or added into dishes for extra flavor and aroma. The bark of the tree can be harvested, dried, and turned into a popular spice. Plantsville Health also sells dried kalingag bark and other cinnamonbased products such as coconut sugar with cinnamon and essential oil. Mixing Philippine cinnamon with coconut sugar, according to Canieso-Yeo, makes a healthy alternative to sweeteners because cinnamon helps lower blood sugar, which is ideal for diabetics. Other health benefits of kalingag include having antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal properties, containing antioxidants, improving gut health, and reducing blood pressure. Canieso-Yeo admits that the price for local cinnamon is a bit higher compared to imported varieties, but the products are worth it. Consumers will receive quality products that recognize the potential of local farmers and species.