PIA

TACLOBAN CITY Leyte – The emergence of the biggest citronella oil extraction plant in the Visayas, the Biliran Essential Oil Manufacturing at Barangay Bato, Biliran, Biliran, is one of the success stories in the implementation of the Small Enterprise Technology Upgrading Program (SETUP) of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) in Eastern Visayas .

The owner is Mr. Jesus F. Doyon, Sr. whose folk wisdom thought of harnessing the never-before interesting local raw material citronella into something of economic value.

The lowly plant which grows on its own, looks and smells somewhat like lemon grass, but its bouquet is stronger, which is why citronella is highly valued for its essential oil, with a farm gate price here of P600 a kilogram or one liter.

Each day, the oil extraction plant at Barangay Bato produces 400 kg. of essential oil from 600 kg. of fresh citronella leaves.

A Manila company wanted to buy three 250 kilogram-drums a month in order to save in imports, mostly from China, but Mr. Doyon simply cannot deliver because firm lack the financing to expand.

Instead, the Biliran Essential Oil Manufacturing Philippines (BEOMP) sells the oil to a soap maker in Cebu, but always keeping in mind that the potential market is big.

The firm started operations in 2004 using the crudely designed citronella oil extraction equipment developed by Engr. Jesus Villamil, who became Mr. Doyon’s consultant.

Realizing the potential of the citronella oil industry, the firm continuously sought the assistance of DOST and its attached agencies for improvement of the process and expansion of the essential oil venture.

Technical intervention from the DOST’S Industrial Technology development Institute (ITDI) and the Technology Application and Promotion Institute enabled the extraction plant to use both liquefied petroleum gas and firewood, saving on fuel cost and minimizing the cutting of wood as fuel.

The citronella oil quality was made more pure, a requirement by industrial buyers, in anticipation of markets abroad that have stricter quality requirements. With guidance from the Biliran Provincial Science & Technology Center and the DOST 8, BEOMP’s marketing manager is currently surfing the Internet for such a market.

Chemical analysis made by the ITDI showed that BEOMP’s citronella oil contains only about 25 percent geraniol, the essential alcohol in citronella oil. It recommended a new extractor, a vacuum distiller, to increase the geraniol level; the oil is now 52 percent geraniol.

These innovations were integrated in the design of the new citronella oil extraction machine which was acquired through a P365,000 SETUP funding in 2006.

The new technology, propelled the firm’s gross sales from citronella oil doubled to nearly P1 million, Mr. Romeo Dignos, DOST Biliran Provincial Director, said. Production increased up to 100 percent compared with the output in 2004.

The DOST intervention was matched by Mr. Doyon’s increased investment with the acquisition of additional equipment, facility improvement and farm implements worth about P 3.5 million. He also expanded his citronella plantation from 15 hectares to 20 hectares and encouraged neighboring farmers to plant citronella.

The waste grass is not a problem since it is biodegradable and can be used as organic fertilizer for the plantation and landfill for the remaining uncultivated areas. The waste water is used as spray for the plants to repel insects and pests.

The Visayas State University is now studying the pesticide properties of local citronella, another step into upping citronella’s value chain.

As far as DOST SET UP is concerned, success as shown by BEOMP’s completion of assistance refund in 2009; increasing the number of workers from five to 30 now; and its success in encouraging farmers to cultivate citronella grass, is a good legacy for an emerging industry in Biliran and in Region 8.

In his visit to the plant early this year, the ever-humble DOST Secretary Mario G. Montejo cited the adoption of hydro-steam extractor technology for citronella oil from grass locally called as “samuyao” or citronella (Cymbopogon nardus var. confertiflorus) as a success story of village level technology application.

The Secretary lauded how a simple technology was able to harness local raw materials into something of economic value that in turn created livelihood and job opportunity for the local people as well as an added income to the adaptor.

Just recently, the firm has acquired another set of new citronella oil distilling equipment as the Department of Science and Technology provided P865,000 for the second phase of financial support for technology upgrading of the processing plant.

The new equipment is expected to replace the old distilling unit used by the firm when its operation started. The old unit has been inefficient due to frequent bug downs and repair. With the acquisition of the new unit, cost of maintenance will be reduced and production capacity of the plant will be optimized.

DOST8 under the leadership of Director Edgardo Esperancilla is encouraging Mr. Doyon to utilize communities to make processed products like insect repellants, air fresheners, perfumes mixed with other essences, skin lotions and soap instead of selling citronella relatively cheap as a raw material.

Citronella oil is one of the essential oils obtained from the leaves and stems of different species of Cymbopogon; the oil used in soap, perfumes, cosmetics and flavorings.

Citronella can grow almost anywhere; China and Indonesia produces almost half of world supply. First cropping until harvest takes six months; harvested just above the roots, the plant regrows in three months for another harvest.

The once ignored lowly citronella used only as skin lotion by village women, has suddenly become the golden duck of the local farmers. (PIA 8)

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