(Photo courtesy of Department of Science and Technology)

MANILA – Oolong tea processing by a cooperative in Misamis Oriental will become safer and production will triple through the assistance of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), an executive said Monday.

The Blooming Forest Workers Multi-Purpose Cooperative (BFWMPC) will be provided with a solar powered dehydrator machine, one moisture analyzer, and a vacuum packaging machine.

"(They have been using the) greenhouse-type solar dryer to dry the camellia sinensis leaves, which was one of the probable reasons why the product was found to have aflatoxin. The solar powered dehydrator machine (will be used for) a more sanitary process that would help them avoid any more harmful toxins and successfully secure the FDA CPR (certificate of product registration)," DOST Misamis Oriental Director Junelyn Louvena Ruiz told the Philippine News Agency in an interview.

She clarified, "Hindi naman harmful palagi. Meron lang pagkakataon kasi with their old equipment they are dependent on the weather which is not predictable. If matagal ma-process and hindi ma-attain ang required heat, possible inferior ang quality."There were instances when (the product was harmful) because the old equipment was dependent on the weather. If if takes too long to process and the required heat was not reached, inferior quality is likely, but that was not always the case)."

Through the DOST assistance, the processing time will be shortened because of the new equipment that will be purchased this quarter. The DOST in Region 10 has allocated PHP 829,745 for this project.

This project is in partnership with the local government of Misamis Oriental, which will shoulder the fee for the new label and design, a portion of the vacuum packaging materials, delivery, and installation of the equipment.

The local government will also design and monitor the operation process of the oolong tea processing facility and assist with the installation and dry-run of the new production equipment.

"Oolong tea processing is a unique venture in the province. Claimed to be the first, if not the only, camellia sinensis oolong tea processing plantation in the country, they have been recognized as the Tea Capital of Mindanao, attracting more tourists and gaining more public interest," she said.

Ruiz added that the association has continuously expanded its plantation even before the DOST assistance. "They have 15,000 camellia sinensis cuttings banked in their nursery for their projected expansion, and have already planted in 9 hectares."

Meanwhile, Ruiz said the cooperative has 23 active members and their oolong tea products are displayed in the Negosyo Centers of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) as well as the DTI's OTOP (One Town One Produc) hubs; the cooperatives around the area; hotels and restaurants; and at the group's oolong tea processing facility in Kalagonoy, Gingoog City. (PNA)