This town sweeps in profit from the humble ‘walis tambo.’

By Reynaldo Andres

Bagulin, La Union—The soft broom industry of the Ilocos region is enjoying full support from the government with the establishment of a five-hectare tiger grass plantation in this town to help meet the increasing demands for soft brooms in the country. Tiger grass is the main raw material used in making soft brooms.

Taking the lead in this development program is the regional office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in the city of San Fernando, La Union, which started maneuvering the composite five-hectare tiger grass plantation within the 162.49-hectare community-based forest management area in the town.

DENR Region 1 is a member of the Ilocos Agriculture, Aquatic and Resources Research and Development Consortium (ILAARRDEC), a consortium of 18 agencies in the Ilocos region involved in agricultural research and extension. Its headquarters are located in the main campus of the Mariano Marcos State University (MMSU) in Batac City.

This five-hectare plantation was added to the existing 682 hectares of tiger grass plantations in the province, which supply raw materials to broom makers in Region 1 and the Cordilleras. In turn, these broom makers deliver soft brooms to various market outlets in the province at the rate of 12,000 brooms per month. According to the DENR, the five-hectare plantation can produce some 44,000 panicles, and this is projected to contribute to a 15 percent increase in the supply of raw materials annually. The 44,000 panicles can be made
into 419 soft brooms.

Tiger grass seedlings ready for transplanting.

The project will give farmers additional income through a sharing scheme between the project beneficiaries and the people’s organization (PO). Thus, for every harvest of 8 to 10 bundles, which is equivalent to 8 brooms, the PO gets one bundle. The income generated by the PO will be used to further expand the plantation area and support other livelihood projects identified by the association.

At present, the number one suppliers of tiger grass in the region are farmers from Burgos town, with an estimated area of 380 hectares planted to tiger grass alone, followed by those in Bagulin with 270 hectares. The city of San Fernando has 20 hectares, while the towns of San Gabriel and Santol have 6 hectares each.

The project is being implemented through the agency’s Community Livelihood Assistance Special Program (CLASP), which is also doing a great deal to control and conserve water in these areas because tiger grass is an excellent plant species for hedgerows, which help rehabilitate the denuded hillsides.

Meanwhile, the local government of Bagulin has already identified tiger grass as its One Town One Product (OTOP) item. With it as its OTOP, Bagulin entered into an agreement for
convergence assistance with other government organizations and funding institutions in order to promote the soft broom industry and to help the broom makers in terms of product design, development, packaging, marketing, and financial assistance, among others.

Records show that the demand for soft brooms in Region 1 and elsewhere in Luzon has increased tremendously since broom makers in Baguio City have a hard time meeting the demand from Manila and nearby provinces. Since a soft broom is an
indispensable household “helper” that is used for cleaning, every home maintains an average of two brooms with an average shelf life of 6 to 8 months. Thus the demand for the brooms is high.

Studies show that one retailer in Bagulin can sell as many as 350 brooms per day during peak seasons, which occur during December and the summer months. The farm gate price per broom is 45, and the retailers sell them at 50 each.

TIGER GRASS PRODUCTION TECHNOLOGY – Tiger grass can be propagated by seeds and root stocks. Propagating the seeds is rare because of their low viability. Mature seeds are collected and broadcasted in an open area where only a few germinate and grow. Propagating by root stocks is more common. Clumps of mature root stocks are uprooted and the upper portion is cut. Only the clumps with culms 10-12 centimeters (cm) in height as measured from root collar are left behind, and these are divided into at least 3 to 5 culms each of individual root stocks.

Before planting, prepare the farm by completely removing weeds. The ideal space requirement is 2 x 2 meters with planting holes of about 30 cm wide and 30 cm deep. Tiger grass root stocks with five suckers should be planted during the onset of the rainy season to ensure a good survival rate and good shoot development.

The best time to replant missing hills is during the next rainy season. Weeding should be done regularly to minimize competition for soil nutrients, water and sunlight, and fire hazards. Protect the plantation from stray animals, and spray the plants with the recommended insecticides when pests and diseases attack.

Soft brooms from tiger grass is now the One-Town-One-Product (OTOP) of Bagulin, La Union.

HARVESTING AND STORING PANICLES – Harvest tiger grass panicles after one year of planting. The panicles must reach the desired length, softness, and greenness to produce quality brooms. The proper age of panicles to be harvested must be five months, and harvesting is usually done in February to March. Harvesting is done using the following methods:

1. Cut the panicles with sharp sickle when they are still green and soft.

2. After harvesting the panicles, cut about 90 percent of the aerial part of the plant so that more tillers will develop in the next rainy season.

3. Dry the panicles for 3 to 5 days for easy threshing of seeds and for a longer storage period.

4. During drying, remove the seeds by shaking or patting the panicles lightly against a concrete pavement.

5. When the panicles are cleaned, group them into bundles with an average size of 7 cm in diameter.

6. Bundled panicles are ready for broom making and marketing, or they can be stored for years in a well-ventilated room.

SOFT BROOM MAKING – There are two kinds of brooms that can be produced: the Solas
and Señorita. Solas make use of the stalks of the panicles as the handle, while the Señorita’s handle is made of a wooden stick and wrapped with plastic strips woven into a design. The other
materials for broom making are tie wire, plastic string, or split rattan.

Sort the panicles according to length and thickness. The first spikelets (flowers) should be sheared to maintain the average length. Sheared spikelets are tied according to the desired thickness of the broom, which is about 6-7 cm in diameter.

Tie into the wood handle or stalks using the wire. Arrange the panicles into a fan-like form and double-sew it with plastic string. Cover the handle with plastic rolls on which the source of
the product can be added. Once the products are packaged, they are ready for marketing.

This story appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s June 2014 issue.