Davao farmer finds health market niche

Subscribe Now August 09, 2011 at 01:46pm

A Davao farmer has grabbed the chance to become an entrepreneur and to serve a health-conscious market via an alternative sweetener from the tree of life, the coconut. Coconut sugar, an organic sweetener friendly to diabetics, is a major export product from Lao Integrated Farms.

"Farmers must not be content with typical crops like copra and fresh fruits. They must look for opportunities to innovate," Benjamin Lao said.

Lao started farming a five-hectare land in Barangay Eman, Bansalan, Davao del Sur, back in the 1990s when coconuts were the only crop and agricultural output was meager.

He started farming the barren land, planted nitrogen-fixing plants and for seven years invested on fruit crops, raised some livestock like goats and swine and attended seminars on animal-raising and farming.

Lao discovered the coconut toddy ("tuba" to locals) as a raw material for sugar when the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) gave him a sample coco sugar pack.

Lao learned that coconut sugar is slowly absorbed into the bloodstream, making it a health alternative for diabetics.

Through the help of the science department, his production of coco sugar increased from 10 to 15 kilograms a day to 150 to 200 kilos.

Lao dubbed his product Donna Belle, which has since developed a national and international presence.

"Our processing is tedious but our coco sugar is better than the one produced by Thailand and Indonesia," he said.

Other products from Lao Integrated Farms include Donna Belle’s syrups and sauces.

He takes pride in that his products are grown the organic way.

The pesticide he uses is a mixture of goat urine, sludge from swine, fermented goat manure, cacawati/madre de cacao leaves, a local shrub called pañawan and pepper.

To meet growing demand from local and foreign buyers, he is looking at building another plant in a nearby municipality.

Donne Belle products are BFAD-approved and his farm is a registered food facility with the US Food and Drug Administration (US FDA). He also recently received an organic certification from a US-based crop improvement association.

A study undertaken by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) found coco sugar to have a low glycemic index of 35, which makes it good for diabetics.

Because of market exposure and research, Lao has succeeded in expanding his product lines to include ice cream made of goat’s milk, healthy candy made from coco syrup and goat’s milk, and healthy juice drinks like camote tops with coco honey, lemon grass with coco sugar and passion fruit with coco syrup.

Source: malaya.com.ph

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