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MANILA, MAY 27, 2007 (BULLETIN) THERE could be more money-making opportunities in urban farming than you think. There are simple and very doable projects that could yield extra income for the enterprising. And some of these opportunities may be just often taken for granted.

Just like what Mrs. Soledad Agbayani was telling me one day. Mrs. Agbayani has been in agribusiness for almost 50 years, and although she has undertaken really large scale livestock and poultry projects, she has also tried many other things like fruits and vegetables, fish and rootcrops.

Would you believe when she says that the lowly camote can be a very good money-maker? She can say that with conviction because she herself has been making money from camote tops. She herself didn’t realize that it is so easy to make money from the common camote until she started bringing small bundles of camote tops to her stall at the AANI Weekend Market at the FTI Complex in Taguig City and also at her new outlet at the Quezon Memorial Circle in Quezon City.

She says she lets her workers harvest the camote tops on Friday afternoon who then bundle them at about 250 grams each or four bundles per kilo. In the past many weeks, she has been selling everything she brought to her stall at R10 per small bundle. That’s R40 per kilo, which is more expensive than the carabao mango she harvests from her farm in San Miguel, Bulacan. She is lucky if the trader would pay her R25 for a kilo of her newly harvested carabao mango.

She also observes that it is much easier and cheaper to produce camote tops than mango fruits. One has to spray a lot of chemicals to protect the mango fruits from pests and diseases. In the case of the camote plants, she only provides them with a lot of animal manure as fertilizer and plenty of water. There’s only one fruiting season for mango in a year. On the other hand, she says, one can harvest the camote tops practically throughout the year with proper irrigation and fertilization.

Imagine, she says, even if one will just harvest a hundred kilos a week from 2,000 square meters of camote plantation, that would mean a gross of R4,000 weekly. That would mean R208,000 in 52 weeks or one eyar.

Mrs. Agbayani’s camote tops are very tender. She just harvests a few inches of the tender tops so that not much waste will be thrown away by the customer. And that’s the reason why customers buy all what she brings to her stall. Normally, the camote tops being sold in the market are about 10 to 12 inches long. Much of that would be thrown away because the stems are not tender and not suitable for human consumption.

Camote top production can, of course, be undertaken in a relatively larger scale, say one hectare or bigger. The harvest could be distributed to several outlets in the city that are more or less accessible so the cost of distribution will not be high. One could opt for a production of 500 kilos a week. That could be distributed to subdistributors at the rate of 50 kilos per subdistributor. And even if the grower would sell to the subdistributor at just R5 per bundle of 250 grams, the 500 kilos of camote tops harvested weekly would give a gross of R10,000 to the grower. Not really a bad proposition, That could be a gross of R520,000 a year.

Of course, it is not as simple as that. One has to maintain the quality of the camote tops. They should be packed in a presentable way. Freshness should always be maintained. Maybe new preparations of the vegetable could be developed.

Maybe, the variety preferred for camote top production should be studied. There are more than a hundred accessions of camote at the Benguet State University. Perhaps, the best varieties for shoot production should be determined.

At the Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center in Taiwan, they have released several years back a variety that produces tender shoots rich in vitamins. Such varieties should be acquired for commercial production here.

Camote shoot production is ideal for undertaking in the urban or peri-urban areas. That’s because the big market is right here in Manila. Try producing camote shoot for money, it could really be more profitable than you

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