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MANILA – Saluyot, the nutritious leafy vegetable that grows almost anywhere in the Philippines, can replace Virginia tobacco as the cash crop among Ilocanos, or may bring good fortune to any hard-working farmer.
A study by the University of the Philippines in Los Banos (UPLB) showed that an enterprising farmer can earn about P400,000 per hectare per season from growing Cochorus olitorius.
UPLB researchers Dr. Rodel Maghirang, Ma. Luisa Guevara, and Gloria Rodulfo said that in one regular season of up to seven months, a saluyot grower can earn a net income of around P411,349 per hectare.
Japan as potential market
To date, the most common outlets of saluyot harvest are local markets – those with paid stalls or the ambulant vendors on city pavements.
But, as a result of increasing commercial uses of the crop, more markets are opening up.
Almost 20 years ago, saluyot became a “food fad” in Japan after Japanese health buffs found that it was a low-calorie food and rich in Vitamin A and minerals like iron, calcium, and protein.
They use dried saluyot powder as an ingredient in meals and soups.
Filipino scientist Lydia Marero also once said: “Saluyot leaves are rich in beta carotene for good eyesight, iron for healthy red blood cells, calcium for strong bones and teeth, and vitamin C for smooth, clean skin, strong immune cells, and fast wound-healing.”
With increasing Filipino communities abroad, agri-business observers say the government can shift the gear to encourage Filipino farmers plant the now widely accepted saluyot and export these to where Filipinos live overseas.
They point out that powdered dry saluyot had been produced mainly to cater to expatriate Filipinos, particularly Ilocanos, in the United States, the Middle East, and later a comparatively large market in Japan.
Growing costs and returns
The cost and return analysis assumed that a one-hectare saluyot farm needs an initial investment of P228,651 to cover labor cost, materials needed, and fixed costs.
The UPLB research paper also disclosed that in a season, the farmer can harvest an average of 80,000 bundles of saluyot per hectare.
At a cost of P8 per bundle, that translates to a gross income of P640,000.
With high potential to earn income for Filipino farmers and to promote production of this green leafy vegetable, the Los Baños-based Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development (DOST-PCARRD) and DOST Small Enterprise Technology Upgrading Program (SET-UP) has also published a “Saluyot Production Guide.”
Saluyot-growing in the country
Data from the Guide shows that in 2006, the 692 hectares of land planted with saluyot throughout the Philippines produced a total of 1,949 tons.
Accordingly, the major producers were Ilocos (particularly Pangasinan) (213 ha) and Western Visayas (154 ha).
The Bureau of Agricultural Research, however, says "market gardens around the national capital Metro Manila are increasing and are more productive."
Various research studies have shown that saluyot can be harvested 30 days after transplanting by cutting the crop at 20-25 centimeters from the ground.
The plants are harvested at one to two weeks interval for up to seven months.
How to grow saluyot
Saluyot in Ilocano, or Cochorus olitorius, responds particularly to warm, humid weather and grows abundantly in river banks and uplands including nearly barren patches.
Called “tugabang” in the Visayas, bush okra in some English-speaking areas, “famine food” in the land of Africans, saluyot or jute mallow leaves hold great potential for export and can help boost the country’s economy if government commitment is not wanting.
Agriculture experts say this adaptable plant responds best to warm, humid weather –- perfect in the north of the Philippines -- and is often grown in backyards, flower pots for those with limited earth space in the metropolis, or in ribs of earthen dikes in the rustic countryside.
Cold weather and extreme months of drought can kill the crop.
But a loam or silty-loam soil, which makes up much of the north of the country, and plenty of organic matter is said to be ideal.
Experts and researchers say saluyot tolerates soil pH of 4.5 to 8.0, but more extreme pH conditions will reduce the availability of iron in the soil.
Soil pH is a measurement of the alkalinity or acidity of soil. pH is measured on a scale of 1-14, with 7 as the neutral mark, anything below 7 considered acidic soil and anything above 7 considered alkaline soil.
Most plants prefer a somewhat neutral pH, anything from 6.2 to 7.0 – good enough for saluyot.