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Basey in Samar province is one of the oldest towns in the country dating back to Hispanic times and tikog (rush) weaving has always been its leading industry until Typhoon Yolanda practically wiped it out.

Lolita (in red shirt) weaves mats with other women near the entrance of Saob Cave where the cool temperature makes the dried tikog grass pliable for weaving.
Lolita (in red shirt) weaves mats with other women near the entrance of Saob Cave where the cool temperature makes the dried tikog grass pliable for weaving.

Mat weaver Lolita Pacaanas recalls how she lost her house in the coastal barangay of Catadman in Basey to not just one but three storm surges at the height of the typhoon. When she went back to where her house was two weeks later, she recovered one bundle of tikog. She promptly sat down with her old neighbors to weave five mats out of this remaining tikog, which she later sold to their usual buyer. “I went to Tacloban City looking for our buyer, hoping that she survived the typhoon and it turned out she did,” Lolita says.

Lolita did not have to wait long to weave again. With the help of national agencies and local government cooperating with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the weavers of Basey did not only start weaving again, but even went on to produce and market more competitive products. In mid-2015, the weavers of Basey participated in two national trade fairs successively conducted in Metro Manila, their first time ever to do so.

“There has been much improvement (in the tikog [rush] mat weaving industry after typhoon Yolanda),” says Bianca Dilovino, a member of the newly federated Basey Association for Native Industry Growth (BANIG), formed in February 2014 (just three months months after Typhoon Yolanda hit) with the assistance of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the local government unit (LGU) of Basey.

A clean slate

Afer the typhoon, the weavers and agencies supporting them entered into a period of taking stock of the industry that they had just lost.

Many of the weavers were from generations of weaver families in Basey and knew only how to weave. “The traders were dictating the buying price of the tikog mats because the weavers did not know how to compute for pricing,” says Rotelma Samonte of the DTI in Samar.

A value chain analysis done by CARE Philippines, an international NGO (INGO), served as the framework for interventions to help revive the industry. DTI helped the federation develop a proposal which the INGO then funded. One of the initial interventions done was the cultivation of the primary raw material (tikog). Tikog grass plantations were established in Basey with planting materials from the provincial government and NGOs. The weavers therefore did not need to buy the raw material (tikog) anymore. Moreover, tikog cultivation assures them of a sustainable supply of the material.

Pre-Yolanda, the weavers of Basey used to buy tikog grass from as far as Leyte at P250-P500 per bundle or scavenge for tikog in the ricefields.

Another crucial finding in the value-chain analysis was that diversification of end-products from woven tikog mats would fetch higher return on investment. “A P500-priced tikog mat for instance would fetch P800 total gross sales if this were turned instead into other products like bags and slippers,” calculates DTI’s Samonte.

Strength in organization

All 29 barangays of Basey now have associations that altogether comprise BANIG, which counts 1,444 weavers as members.

“A weaver who is a member of the federation is paid P250 labor cost for one woven family-sized banig. A non-member is paid P200. This rate is an increase from the previous P150 labor cost (pre-Yolanda),” explains federation secretary Maria Anna Jeingua.

“Having BANIG organized was helpful to members because we were able to deal with traders,” says Jeingua.

“Three big traders used to buy directly from weavers and since they see themselves only as weavers, they could not dictate the price. But when they were organized, they were trained to become entrepreneurs and learned to do costing and pricing. BANIG now markets the products, and fetches better price for the products made by its members,” says DTI’s Samonte.

Adding value to the product

Fulfilling their commitment under the Tikog Industry Development Plan crafted by various stakeholders in a workshop last June, DTI trained the weavers on standardized weaving, dyeing, sewing and embroidery to increase the value of their end-products. The trainings were successively conducted from September until October this year. Those trained members of each barangay-level association would roll out the skills training to the other members. These skills help the weavers produce better quality products that meet standards of institutional buyers.

“The coloring of tikog, for instance, used to be on hit-or-miss basis. Buyers noticed that the colors were not of standard hue. This is because the weavers just mix without any computation, and would not be able to replicate one color they would have mixed. Now (after the training), they know how to scientifically measure the dyes so that they will have a standard measurement for certain colors they need. It will be easy for them to follow what the buyers order from them, and this will improve the quality and price for their products,” says Samonte.

DTI, through their livelihood seeding program, also provided the weavers production materials which included huge vats for color dyeing.

The Basey LGU was also able to access 16 high-speed sewing machines from the Mindanao Development Authority through the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Four of these were given to BANIG while the rest was awarded to individual associations.

BANIG is also looking forward to additional machines through its proposal funded by CARE, that will help them improve on the production of end-products. These include the flattening machine to quickly dry tikog grass, as they are currently flattening the grass manually. The Department of Science and Technology through its attached agency Metals Industry Research and Development Center has agreed to fabricate the machine for BANIG.

Weavers at work

In the cool bossom of Saob cave, some 15-minutes’ drive from the poblacion (town center) of Basey, a few women are quietly weaving tikog on a regular working day. Tikog cannot stand high temperature, so some weavers troop to the cave to continue working on their banig after 9 a.m.

Saob cave has been developed by the Department of Tourism as a tourist attraction after Yolanda; thus, it now serves as a work studio and showroom for the weavers.

“I thought I would lose my mind after the typhoon,” confessed Bianca Dilovino, president of the Barangay Palaypay Weavers Association. She had seen many in her barangay die from the typhoon even though it’s not a coastal barangay. But being busy helped her and the other weavers to recover.

The Palaypay Weavers Association which Bianca leads has recorded gross sales of P90,000 since its revival after typhoon Yolanda. The association has not divided income among members as yet because they roll it out as capital. However, the association immediately pays its members for their labor.

“Although Yolanda left wide destruction, a lot of help was given afterwards,” Bianca says.

The other weavers of Basey chime in excitedly in agreement as they weave bursts of cheerful colors of tikog banig.

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