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Camote, why not?

BY PET MELLIZA/The Beekeeper

Palay has dipped to P10 per kilo and farmers saddened by the depressed price have no choice but dispose of their produce that cheap because traders already feel the glut and slow down buying. Two or three months back, a farmer earned P14-P17 per kilo of palay.

Favorable rainfall has enabled farmers to go into third cropping and it’s not uncommon to see fields today bustle with people harvesting and threshing  palay alongside paddies being tilled for the next cropping. However, the Philippines, a predominantly agricultural country, cannot feed its people without importing food, rice included. It is a heavy importer or rice.

Vietnam, its main source, already hinted that importers like the Philippines should better raise their own production because it would be reducing its rice exports over the years to fill the growing demand of its own people. There’s no cause for alarm for that.

Even if the Philippines’s traditional rice sources India and Vietnam shut down their  pipeline, Filipinos still have the alternative to feed themselves with.

In fact, we can help the Department of Agriculture reduce rice imports in three months and, in doing so, stop the haemorrhage of scarce foreign exchange and improve the people’s health as well. That sounds simplistic but we can do that by adopting camote as staple along with rice.

In our elementary years, teachers would insult slow learners by telling them to quit school and instead “go home and plant camote”. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, it should be encouraged. Camote is not only nutritious; it packs elements that not only propel physical and mental growth; they also make one resistant to diseases. The rootcrop has healing properties as well.

This is not to put rice down but I have written in past pieces that the Western technology rammed down on the collective soul of Filipino farmers has trapped them in the vicious cycle of rice dependence and hunger.

That is an oxymoron but a painful fact: the Filipino farmer has been conditioned to run the rat race of growing rice in as many croppings as possible and in the process, entangles itself to poverty and hunger. The farmer buries itself deeper into debt to finance a rice cropping that gets costlier over the years.

Chemical-dependent rice farming has irreparable consequences in rural life. The planting season today is literally the season of “tigkiriwi” or hunger that turns one to grimace (“kiwi”) in pain because chemical sprays wiped out natural food sources available in the yonder years when chemicals were not yet used in farms.

The rice paddies and streams in the pre-chemical era abound with freshwater fishes (puyu, urang, tilapia, pantat, haru-an etc.), snails, bullfrogs that turn the planting period truly a season of fill. They are gone now. Intensive rice farming and along with it, heavier dosage of chemical sprays, wiped out natural predators –dragon flies, lizards, praying mantis, spiders, frogs, small birds—preying on pests, mosquitoes included.

Without predators, mosquitoes multiply exponentially, one major reason why the dreaded dengue hemorrhagic fever  break out during the rainy days especially in areas where intensive rice farming is practiced.

Let’s go back to camote. By adopting the crop as staple, we also help stop the use of pesticides and as well, the spread of dengue.

The webpage of “Food Recap” (http://www.foodrecap.net/health/benefits-of-camote-tops/) contains interesting observation on the rootcrop. It promotes health. Let your Beekeeper quote it:

“Camote tops have the highest content of total polyphenolics among other commercial vegetables studied.“Contain protein, dietary fiber, lipid, and essential minerals and nutrients such as calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, sodium, potassium, sulfur, iron, copper, zinc, manganese, aluminum and boron.

“Important sources of vitamin A, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and ascorbic acid.“Excellent sources of antioxidative compounds, mainly polyphenolics, which may protect the human body from oxidative stress that is associated with many diseases including cancer and cardiovascular diseases.”

That’s for the leaves alone. It is safe to assume that the tuber packs as much nutrients as well. Camote leaves last year hugged the headlines as a potential cure for dengue. The Department of Health (DOH) is cautious in endorsing the crop but it does not prevent parents either from applying its juice to their kids stricken with the dreaded disease even in hospitals.


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