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Palawan coastal association turns seaweeds into diplomas

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By Christia Marie Ramos (Reporter, INQUIRER.net)

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY — Twenty-three years ago, Mardy Montaño moved a thousand kilometers away from her home in Negros Occidental to be with a man she met while she was on a three-day vacation in Palawan.

Now, this 48-year-old woman is leading a group of seaweed farmers in the coastal community of Sitio Balintang, Barangay Isugod in Quezon.

Montaño is the president of the Cherish Fisherfolks Association, which has 86 members — 22 women and 66 men.

Though hesitant at first, she accepted the challenge of leading the organization.

“I never dreamed of becoming president of fisherfolk because it should be a man. But it went through an election. I don’t want this position, but then the people put me here. So I rose up to the challenge,” she said, speaking in Filipino to a small group of journalists on a media tour of Protect Wildlife Project sites of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in southern Palawan.

Paying for children’s education

Seaweed farming has helped association members send their own children to school.

“This is the source of livelihood that helped us give our children an education,” Montaño said. “Unlike in the cities where there are permanent jobs, there are factories, we have none of that here. Just the sea. When there’s a storm, our cooking pots are empty. Our students are pitiful whenever their fathers don’t earn anything. But because of seaweeds, we already have children who have finished school.”

Her own eldest child, she said, was already an agricultural engineer, thanks to seaweed farming.

According to her, farmers earn P85 per kilogram of seaweed.

A line of seaweed — which is about 25 meters long — weighs about 100 kilograms when fresh and from 25 to 30 kilograms once dried.

This means that they can earn up to P2,500 for each seaweed line.

“For example, if our kids would text: ‘Mama, we have a midterm or final exam next week.’ Mothers then prepare the seaweeds for drying,” Montaño said.

According to her, 10 lines of seaweed would pay for the midterm exam fee of a student and 20 lines would pay for the final exam fee.

Drying facilities

For association members, drying their fresh seaweed is of utmost importance as they rely mostly on dried seaweed products to bring food to the table.

In the past, these farmers from Quezon would often lay their harvested seaweed along the pier to dry.

But they were able to acquire a solar inland dryer and a floating one through a partnership of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Lutheran World Relief (LWR) and the Ecumenical Church Loan Fund (ECLOF).