When the government does good
For many years, dozens of housewives from Barangay Pinayagan Norte in the town of Tubigon, Bohol, have been weaving raffia, a natural fiber from palm trees, into fabrics that find their way in the form of various products to buyers overseas. For most of these women, their world is Bohol, and many will probably never get to step out of the island-province in their lifetime. And yet they are very much globally connected. They are part of a value chain that spans all the way from their humble homes in this coastal fishing community to the rooms of luxury homes or hotels in Malaysia, Japan, Europe, or the United States.
From a small loose group of women home weavers in 1989, the Tubigon Loomweavers Multipurpose Cooperative (TLMPC) employed, as of last year, 65 plant-based weavers and up to 100 home-based weavers, spurring a local value chain of some 650 raw materials suppliers and five product converters. They are now a prominent supplier of raffia fabrics that export manufacturers turn into various articles ranging from clothing to decorative pieces that find eager buyers overseas.
The women loomweavers of Tubigon, many of whose husbands have since joined them in the enterprise, have a remarkable story to tell. It is a story of how, with the right support from the government, nongovernment groups and the private sector, the poorest of households can be transformed into productive wealth-creating communities offering sustainable livelihoods for their residents. Starting with an original 30 members with no particular skills, the Department of Trade and Industry organized the women in 1989 under the government’s package of support for agrarian reform beneficiaries. The women formed a cooperative, and the DTI gave them an initial grant of P5,000. The DTI nurtured them with training in basic skills, particularly in loomweaving, at a time when Tubigon was mostly a fishing community best known for its lambay crabs. Further training was later provided on product development and enterprise management, and the women were soon in business with their loomwoven raffia fabrics.
Through the DTI’s Shared Service Facilities program, the cooperative later received a P1.26-million handloom facility that helped them produce better and wider sheets of the fabric, which yielded them annual sales of nearly P6 million. The DTI partnered with Cebu-based French designer Francis Dravigny—who counts international luxury brands Cartier, Neiman Marcus, and Sonoma among his clientele—to help further improve the product and bring it much wider attention. Through his export firm, Dravigny gave a big break to the TLMPC with an order of 661 rolls of raffia fabric blend totaling 13,887 meters, used for products sold to a Malaysian hotel chain.
From 24-inch-wide sheets, the Tubigon loomweavers can now produce the fabric up to 72 inches wide, thus finding even wider applications. Their blooming success story has also attracted assistance in various forms from other groups, including international and private-sector organizations. With all these, the group has moved up the value chain and now goes beyond selling only rolls of fabric; it now produces bags and wallets, place mats, coasters, table runners, and other home accessories as well. It aims to be able to export its products directly, and appears well on the way to doing so.
The Tubigon loomweavers’ experience shows how far even the smallest of producers can go, with the right support from the government and other parties. It is clear that such support is necessary, as the realities of the economic environment will remain lopsided in favor of bigger businesses for time to come, whether in access to financing and technology, in rules and policies, and in many other things. But promoting a more inclusive economy by fostering micro, small and medium enterprises—including helping them integrate into the international markets directly or indirectly through the global value chains for various products—does all of us good.
The story of the Tubigon loomweavers is only one of many nationwide that the DTI and other partners have caused to happen. With even wider help and support for our smallest producers, there is so much more we can do.
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