Leyte mom builds wealth from sweet potato farming

By Sarwell Meniano

May 17, 2024, 4:11 pm

<p><strong>HIGH-VALUE</strong>. Brenda Avelino of Dulag, Leyte holds a large size of kamote (sweet potato). The mother of seven earns PHP240,000 monthly from farming and trading the crop. <em>(PNA photo by Sarwell Meniano)</em></p>

HIGH-VALUE. Brenda Avelino of Dulag, Leyte holds a large size of kamote (sweet potato). The mother of seven earns PHP240,000 monthly from farming and trading the crop. (PNA photo by Sarwell Meniano)

DULAG, Leyte – The phrase “go home and plant kamote (sweet potato),” usually heard by Brenda Avelino from an irritated teacher during her elementary days, did not make any sense until three years ago when the crop brought PHP240,000 monthly to her pocket.

Known as Leyte’s "Kamote Queen," Avelino, 41, started planting the crop in 2020 when the government restricted the movement of people due to the pandemic.

She cultivated on a small plot of land owned by his late father-in-law, Carmelo Magos, in Rawis village in Dulag, a town located 42 kilometers south of Tacloban. His father-in-law earned the moniker “Kamote King” for planting and trading the crop.

The family stopped the business more than a decade ago when the patriarch died.

Brenda’s husband, Alejandro, worked as a truck driver.

“Since life was hard during the pandemic, we planted camote. After harvest, we drove around Leyte villages in an old tricycle to sell the commodity,” Brenda told the Philippine News Agency.

She encouraged other farmers in seven villages in Dulag to cultivate camote to ensure a steady supply.

The couple buys the produce of over 100 kamote farmers in her hometown, maintaining 120 hectares of farmland.

The success of this venture led to further expansion, with Brenda and Alejandro purchasing sweet potato cuttings, acquiring additional land for cultivation, financing other farmers in their locality, and putting up a nursery for National Seed Industry Council-recommended varieties.

From trading just 800 kilos per month in 2002, the couple now sells up to 15,000 kilograms of kamote to traders and consumers in Metro Manila, Tacloban, and some parts of Leyte and Samar provinces.

The current prevailing price of kamote is PHP30 per kilogram.

The Avelino’s monthly gross income is PHP450,000. Minus the expenses, the couple earns PHP240,000 monthly.

Through sound financial management, she was able to raise money to acquire four hectares of land for sweet potato cultivation, an old truck, and recently a PHP590,000 tractor for harvesting.

“Don’t underestimate the value of camote because the crop can change lives. In the past, I hated farming because it’s very tiring, but I love it now,” said Brenda, a mother of seven. 

In an article, the Philippine Rootcrops Research and Training Center (PhilRootcrops) described Brenda’s approach to farming as something that goes beyond mere commercialism as she emphasizes the value of every produce.

“Even those deemed unmarketable are repurposed into homemade goods and snacks, instilling a culture of resourcefulness within her family,” the article said.

The PhilRootcrops, with offices inside the Visayas State University in Baybay City, said camote is a good source of calcium, helps build and maintain strong bones, is rich in iron for red blood cells, which metabolize proteins and prevent diseases, is rich in zinc necessary for proper growth and development, and have a low glycemic index, which makes it suitable for people with diabetes and in weight management.

Marlon Tambis, the deputy director of PhilRootcrops in an interview with the Philippine News Agency, cited the growing demand for camote due in part to the rising price of rice, the country’s staple food.

“This is considered superfood, and even famous people regularly eat camote. Rice only provides energy, but camote has many vitamins and minerals. Through research, we have developed new products out of camote, such as fries, vacuum-fried sweet potatoes, ice cream, and juice made from sweet potato leaves mixed with calamansi extract,” he said.

For one, camote fries are all-natural food that can become a healthier alternative to popular fast food counterparts.

The fries boast a multicolored variant sourced from different varieties of sweet potatoes, giving them a more appetizing look for children of all ages.

“As a healthier alternative to the common French fries, this product contains beta-carotene, which is a very good source of vitamin A and is rich with essential antioxidants,” Tambis added.

The official is optimistic that, with the high demand for camote, more farmers will cultivate this root crop. (With reports from Jake C. Paguipo and Niña Rose A. Magpili, OJTs/PNA)