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Being street-wise to jasmine

Garland vendors are a common sight outside churches in  Manila, capital of The Philippines (CIP-UPWARD)
Garland vendors are a common sight outside churches in Manila, capital of The Philippines

Weaving between queues of traffic Zulueta makes her way to the church gates, where she waits, white garlands of flowers dangling from her fingers. Since her husband died this Filipino widow, now in her forties, has been coming from the outskirts of Manila to earn a living. During the week she sleeps on the streets to save money and to avoid the daily commute from home. Like many Filipino women in her position, and an estimated 125,000 unskilled rural migrants and street children, her survival depends on what she can earn from sales of one white flower, the jasmine (Jasminum sambac), known locally as the sampaguita.

From farmer to street-seller, sampaguita is a major peri-urban enterprise in the Philippines. However, despite the apparent purity of the product, the industry has a darker side, including a close association with child labour and dangerously high pesticide use. Finding solutions to these problems is one objective of CIP-UPWARD, (the International Potato Center's User's Perspective with Agricultural Research and Development) a network of scientists and development professionals aiming to increase the participation of farmers and other end users in research and development.

Nipping bad practice in the bud

Working with over 50 institutions from around the world, CIP-UPWARD has assessed problems throughout the entire sampaguita chain. This begins with farmers in their fields, or more often in their backyards. In San Pedro, a rapidly urbanizing area 25 kilometers from Manila, three-quarters of farmers grow the evergreen sampaguita in their gardens. The flowers are harvested daily whilst still in bud, but pests such as whitefly and bud-borer cause a major reduction in yields, with downstream impacts on others in the garland-making chain.

Bud-borers cause the most significant damage, penetrating the flower bud at an early stage, remaining hidden and destroying it from within. During investigations into the problem, UPWARD and the University of the Philippines Los Banos (UPLB) discovered that, despite known health risks, farmers were spraying large amounts of toxic pesticides often every day, and in some cases only twelve hours before the buds were harvested. As a result, researchers found it was not uncommon for farmers to report cases of dizziness and vomiting, even when wearing protective clothing, and for others handling the flowers to complain of skin irritations.

Selling jasmine buds, one of the the raw materials for making garlands (CIP-UPWARD)
Selling jasmine buds, one of the the raw materials for making garlands

In an attempt to reduce pesticide usage, the UPWARD team and UPLB have introduced farmers to integrated pest management (IPM) using natural predators and pest-resistant cultivars. Most farmers were unaware of IPM techniques, although a few were using bees and wasps to reduce pest numbers. The results, however, have been positive, with IPM enabling farmers to reduce pesticide applications, or even stop them altogether, whilst significantly increasing their yields.

In another development, SIUPA (the Strategic Initiative on Urban and Peri-Urban Agriculture) has initiated on-farm trials to test new varieties of sampaguita. Traditionally only one variety has been cultivated, but this narrow genetic base has limited productivity and the quality of the flowers. Now, a greater range of flower size and colour is available, helping to boost market sales and bringing benefits not just to the growers, but to the garland makers and sellers as well.

Bringing people together

To highlight the value of the sampaguita industry and to strengthen marketing links for garland makers, UPWARD has also developed links between farmers, traders and officials in the Department of Social Welfare and Development. Such dialogue has highlighted the problems facing garland sellers, including traffic pollution and price fluctuations. There is also a new sense of hope in the industry, and an ambition that over the next few years, better storage methods and the development of high-value products will further increase the market for Zulueta's white flowers.

With contributions from: Jaime A. Gallentes

Date published: March 2007


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