Dapitan City, Zamboanga Del Norte is a city found in the northern part of the island of Mindanao which is one of those at the top of the eco-tourism industry game in the Philippines. This city is widely known for being the place where the Philippine National Hero, Jose P. Rizal, was exiled. With the history imputed to the city, it is no wonder that Dapitan is one of the sought out tourist destinations in the Philippines. The city’s natural beauty, its fresh air, and its green surroundings add to the recipe as to why people from all over the Philippines and even foreigners flock to the city. We may think that Dapitan’s eco-tourism is all there is to it but that is not the end of what the renowned city could offer. Presently, Dapitan is showcasing itself to the world through one unique product: cassava chips.

Developing this commodity was seen as a potential tool for improving the livelihood of the Dapitanons by the current Senior Agriculturist at the Department of Agriculture, the Livelihood Coordinator of the City and at the same time, the mother of the now-famous Cassava Chips, Susan Q. Empeynado.

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The process of turning cassava into chips is no easy task. The cassava are peeled carefully to remove the inedible outer parts and to eliminate the parts that contain most of the toxic elements. After peeling, the cassava will then undergo a process called chipping which is done by slicing the cassava into thin sheets. By thinly slicing the cassava, drying only needs lesser amount of time and hasten the processing the product. The thin slices are then soaked in water for three days for fermentation. Soaking also allows residual hydrocyanic acid in the cassava to diffuse out which will make the product more safe for human consumption. After soaking, the sliced sheets of cassava will then be dried to produce cassava chips which are clean, white in colour, free from harmful elements and can be stored for a long period of time.

How they started

“The Cassava Chips program started way back 2009. It started in Polanco, Zamboanga del Norte with the 4H Club Members however due to circumstances, the project was brought to Dapitan City on June 2014”, recalled Ma’am Susan. Ever since its transfer to Dapitan, the project has been developing and is now largely carried by the Cassava Growers and Processors of Dapitan City. “What makes it different here in Dapitan is the full support of the local government unit. I believe that Polanco was the best training ground then the real game started here in Dapitan”, she said. One major contribution to the success of the cassava chips was that the growers and processors were fully supported by the local government unit of Dapitan City. They saw the potential of cassava and trusted its potential despite the huge risks it entailed. The Cassava Chips Program was formally launched last September 8, 2014 as one of the livelihood programs in Dapitan City.

A helping hand

As the famous quote goes, “No man is an island”. This is widely applied to individuals but this could well be applied to groups as well. Of course, with the flight of the Cassava Chips Program, Cassava Growers and Processors of Dapitan City had a new situation to face – growth and sustainability. Nothing is ever sure in the market. One circumstance could make or break the current status of their program so they had to find ways to keep their program running. They need a helping hand in their pursuit of development. This is where the Department of Trade and Industry came in. “Sauna pa jud mi love sa DTI” (“Even then, DTI has always loved us”), Ma’am Susan fondly recalled. “DTI was always there for us. Trade promotions, financial literacy, values formation, you name it, they were always looking out for us.”

The programs offered by DTI were really utilized by the group and these services really gave them a big push in their vision to really bring the cassava chips to the market.
“The one thing I really love about DTI is that they never withheld anything that would benefit us. Whenever there were knowledgeable speakers who could add to our productivity, they readily intervened for us. They would contact us and let us know of many opportunities which obviously would only pass us by if DTI weren’t there”, shared Ma’am Susan.

Training programs like Product Development, Pricing and Costing, and Personal Relations was really a big ingredient for their success. “They were always there. They were the first people who appreciated our product”, she shared. “To this day, DTI’s helping hands are still with us.”

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Mountainous challenges

As with any growing organization, conflicts, difficulties and challenges really arose. Recalling everything they have experienced up to that point, Ma’am Susan cited two major challenges that met them in their journey for development and growth. One was politics. The other was the values of the people. These challenges were equally paralyzing to the program. These were difficult challenges because both were out of the control of people. The former already stained for a long time and the latter is something that is inherent to the workers. When asked as to how she overcame the hurdle with regards to reforming the values of the workers she answered, “You really have to say what you need to say. You need to confront them and tell them that what they are doing is wrong. There are times when we really have to be firm and just stand our ground on the things that are right.” As of now, the group is working harmoniously, fully-motivated and the problem of politics has been overcome since obvious support from the local government unit were extended. “Connection to the Almighty is key. Pray always. He knows everything and He is able to help us out of any situation.” This was one of Ma’am Susan’s secret to success.

The best is yet to come

The Cassava Chips manufactured by the Cassava Growers and Processors of Dapitan City are steadily finding its own niche in the market. The program has greatly influenced every member of the value chain. From organic farmers, cassava producers, transportation companies and even up to the processors, every member of the society benefited significantly from the program. The local government unit of Dapitan has even branched out to include Puto, Cassava Cake and Pichi-pichi as some of the delicacies they offer. The programs are hiring people and are looking forward to manufacturing Soya Milk in the near future. “The production grew, the processing grew, the number of workers increased, the market widened and many things happened that in my own opinion, was really the will of God”, Ma’am Susan says. Surely, the best is yet to come for the Cassava Growers and Processors of Dapitan City!