Economic Activities

Economy

Agar-Agar Industry

The major livelihood in most of the shallow areas in the island stretching for kilometers in all directions Agar-agar is available for harvest after 35 days . Average is around 5 kilos per line. Agar-agar farm consists of about five hundred lines and being managed by the family. Sitangkai is the biggest producer of agar-agar in the country making it the Agar-Agar capital of the Philippines. Sitangkai produces 85% of carrageenan , the by-product of agar-agar which is versatile ingredient in industrial application like cosmetics and food preparation.

 

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The punduhan is composed of nuclear family and other relatives. Agar-agar farm is family enterprise and everyone is involved including children who are already capable of work. Women seldom tend to the activities in the punduhan but traditionally carries their responsibility on taking care of the house and the family. Through the years, the punduhan has grown largely and they often mistaken as small islands from a distance.. Normally though, punduhan are often isolated from one another.

 

 

Sitangkai

 

ImgFully loaded banca with a day’s harvest. Agar-agar farming is a tedious process beginning with securing the seedlings by tying them on a nylon string . It takes About a month to have them ready for harvest.

 

 

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The importance of Agar-Agar as major industry of not only Sitangkai but of the Province of Tawi-Tawi is celebrated by the annual Agar-Agar Festival in the town of Bongao.

 

 

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After a month or so, the agar-agar is ready for harvest. The volume depends on the number of nylon lines laid out in the sea making sure that it is within the strong tidal flow for proper nutrition of the agar-agar seedlings.

 

 

Agar-agar

A first time farmer enjoys his first harvest taking a walk along the beach. He is carrying about 25 kilos of sturdy stock of agar-agar.

 

 

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The harvested agar-agar is then spread out to dry under the sun. It takes few weeks to have them well dried in order to command better selling price. Moist agar-agar have about 15% deduction from the regular market price.

 

 

Busy Morning

It’s a busy morning at the punduhan as banca-full of agar-agar comes in.

 

 

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Local women with their agar-agar harvest: Participation of women in the agar-agar industry is a common sight. The farming activities involve the whole family. It is like the way agricultural farms are managed a family enterprise.

In this photo, the group is composed of women of the nuclear family which is expected of regardless of age or status.

Under the scorching equatorial sun, work in the agar-agar farm is no easy thing. The first step of farming, the tying of the seedlings into the nylon lines is the most strenuous since it requires dexterity in handling the delicate and tiny seedlings.

 

 

 

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Harvest time is always a great occasion. It is inspiring as the hard work finally has its reward of plentiful harvest. Those who are lucky enough to have their farm filled with plenty of the precious seaweeds, are forced to invite or hire neighbors to help them with the harvest activities. Usually a good harvest means a must celebration which is marked by thanksgiving or “duwaa salamat”. Merriments like singing and dancing especially during the full moon have the whole punduhan bursting with fun and laughter.

 

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Young agar– agar farmers rejoice on their bounty harvest. From all age brackets, agar industry has attracted interest as it commands good price and does not take a long time to have the yields.

 

 

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Agar-agar being dried . When dry it turns whitish as the water contents evaporate. The drier the agar the higher the market price. Some farmers are forced to sell their produce even though they are still moist due to financial difficulties.

The annual billion dollar industry: But people remain poor.

Sitangkai, one of the municipalities of Tawi-Tawi, produces about half of the national seaweed output. It is taking the lead on the industry way ahead of other areas like those in the Visayas that are also investing a great deal for the competitive international market demands..
Agar-agar is a versatile plant and its industrial applications range from medical formulation, cosmetics, and of food preparations like ice cream.
Sitangkai has the advantage of producing more of the agar-agar since it has unpolluted sea and the sea currents are constant that are basic needs of agar-agar farms.

Considered as the “Seaweed Capital of the Philippines “, it is also the world’s biggest producer of seaweeds in one contained location. Majority of the population (80%) are dependent on seaweed farming for livelihood. The migration of people from other areas to Sitangkai is actually factored by the prospects of making a fortune or the share of it in the agar-agar industry. Even the Tausug (people from Sulu who are basically traders and engaged in agriculture have already been lured into seaweed farming as alternative source of livelihood. The peace initiatives of the national government have programmed seaweed farming as part of the livelihood for ex-MNLF combatants.

Sitangkai contributes an equivalent PhP2 billion annually to the country’s net dollar inflow closely behind the dollar remittances of the overseas workers which is the second source of revenues for the national treasure.
Despite the 3,000 metric tons of monthly harvest and the extremely hard work of around 20,000 farmers, the measly take-home is only around PhP1,750 per month.

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