One can easily mistake portions of Laguna Lake in Cardona, Rizal as landmass due to the sheer number of the water lilies/hyacinths which litter the banks of the coastal community.

The water plants are also present all year-round with the volume of plants only varying on the wind direction which causes them to drift towards the nearest shores.

The lakeside of Cardona, Rizal is filled with water lilies which the municipal government converts into income for locals and raw materials for entrepreneurs. (MBL/PIA4A)

Cardona Municipal Planning and Development Officer Janet Ramos recounts that the clumps of drifting plants hinder the livelihood of island barangays of the town located in Talim Island, disrupt the routes of motor boats transporting people and cargo and, prevent local fisher folk to catch fish.

In the past, the local government unit gave financial assistance to locals to clean the lake but were thinking of ways to profit from the large amounts of gathered plants. This gave birth to the idea of drying the water lilies and creating products out of the abundant drifters.

And with that idea, the local government turned what could have been trash into a source of income.

Top photo: The Cardona Municipal Government harvests, dries and processes water lilies from Laguna Lake to turn into raw materials for mats, baskets, bags and wallets. (MBL/PIA4A)

From warehouse to workhouse

Facility Supervisor Rolf Jurado explains that water lily processing begins with harvesting which is done by locals who are paid depending on the amounts of gathered plants.

Harvested plants are first sun-dried from one to two weeks depending on the weather and are then sorted and processed. Regular quality stalks are woven into mats while high quality stalks are sold to buyers which process them into bags, wallets, baskets and other products.

Jurado adds that the program targets locals at home who need sources of livelihood. During the recent Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) in line with the COVD-19 pandemic, the town’s water lily helped provide locals with an alternative source of incoming despite the temporary closure of the Cardona Economic Processing Center.

“Tulad ng banig, dinadala namin sa kanila yung materials, tapos gagawin nila at babayaran naming sila ng P 100 isang banig sa labor,” Jurado states

Prior to its rebirth as the town’s venue for both water hyacinths and bamboo products respectively, the Cardona Economic Processing Center was merely a warehouse fronting the Laguna lake.

Today, the center houses the processing facilities of the Cardona Multi-Purpose Cooperative, known for its engineered bamboo products, and the Municipal Government’s Water Hyacinth Primary Processing Center both of which have received assistance from multiple government agencies such as the provincial Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Science and Technology, Department of Labor and Employment, Technical Education and Skills Development Authority and Cooperative Development Authority among others.

The water lily processing facility was initially under the management of a local cooperative but was later integrated into the operations of the Municipal Planning and Development Office.

Facility Supervisor Rolf Jurado (left) explains the process of drying and processing water lily stalks into raw materials and woven mats. (MBL/PIA4A)

Easy pickings and provincial life

Aside from bamboo and water lily processing, Jurado thinks that there are other opportunities to earn money in the province if on looks hard enough. Charcoal briquetting in the town is also seen as another industry which shows promise due to the locals’ use of coconut husks which would otherwise just be garbage.

“Magbalik na sila (people) dito sa probinsya at mas madali ang buhay dito. Maraming pwedeng pagkakitaan kaysa Maynila kasi dito marami kang pwedeng maisip na pagkakakitaan. Nasa paligid mo lang. Hindi mo lang napapansin,” Jurado remarks as he urges people to seek their fortunes in the countryside instead of the congested metro.

With the lower cost of living and significantly lower levels of pollution, going back to the province may indeed prove to be an ideal lifestyle provided that livelihood opportunities be more accessible.

Looking back at how the Municipality of Cardona turned disruptive water lily plants into a sustainable source of income, other industries based on turning native materials into raw materials or processed products may not be far off if one has enough innovation, marketing skill and support. (Kier Gideon Paolo Gapayao/PIA-Rizal)