Ilocos Norte farmers revive cotton industry

PINILI, Ilocos Norte — In a small village of Lumbaan, this town, at least 25 farmers have seen a great opportunity to increase their income and at the same time rekindle their sense of pride through reviving a dying cotton industry.

Elders recall Lumbaan used to have cotton fields, an important raw material in the making of “inabel” loom weaving products. But as the tobacco industry grew robust in this part of Luzon, farmers had shifted to tobacco farming, leaving behind cotton.

Cotton, a natural fiber, used to be the choice among traditional weavers but with the scarcity of the material in the last decades, weavers have switched to synthetic threads imported from China.

Due to lack of raw materials, the local loom weaving industry here also suffered almost a natural death until two years later, Dr. Joven Cuanang, a well-known patron of the arts and neurologist who had retired from his medical practice at St. Luke’s Hospital, was able to convince some farmers to try cotton seeds as an alternative plant, next to staple crops such as rice, tobacco and vegetables.

Marjo Galinato, one of the pioneering farmers of Barangay Lumbaan initially planted cotton on his half-hectare of land and it gave him better income than his average earning from rice.

From a half-hectare land, Galinato said he decided to expand his 2.5 hectares of rice farm, now planted alternatively with cotton during the second cropping season.

Comparing yield of both crops, he attested that his gross income of Php 350,000 on cotton is higher or more than double his rice crop per year.

With a minimum capital of Php 30,000 per hectare, Galinato added planting cotton as an alternative crop is very rewarding because it is not labor intensive and it can be harvested after a period of four months.

In a year’s time, from a community of five farmers, there are now 25 cotton farmers in Barangay Lumbaan who are being assisted by the Philippine Cotton Industry in terms of technology and marketing assistance.

According to Cuanang, Pinili town can become very progressive should a village like Lumbaan become a center for weaving.

Banking on a master loomweaver Magdalena Gamayo, 93, a national living treasure who hails from this town, Cuanang said it is very important to ensure cotton will be produced locally instead of importing raw materials from China.

“The whole world is looking for products which are organic, ecologically sensitive and handcrafted by people. So, with a brand like Magdalena Gamayo, we need to help them (local community) in developing the production chain,” said Cuanang.

In 2012, the NCCA recognized Gamayo as a national treasure for her excellence in textile weaving.

Through Gamayo’s guidance and sharing of expertise, Pinili town is also actively engaged in the training of more young weavers, allowing this Ilocano weaving tradition to stay from generation to generation.