By BERNIE CAHILES-MAGKILAT
Little is known how the lowly banana leaves have helped ease the lives of many until the restaurant chain Binalot popularizes the use of the leaves as its food wrapper.
Entrepreneur Rommel Juan, CEO of Binalot Fiesta Food, Inc., saw the opportunity to provide livelihood to some families when he put up Binalot’s DAHON CSR program dubbed DAHON (Dangal at Hanapbuhay para sa Nayon).
Famous for its classic Filipino meals wrapped in banana leaves, Binalot provides livelihood for at least 30 families in Barangay Buhanginan in Nagcarlan, Laguna. From an initial 120 bundles of banana leaves in 2006 this number has grown to 300 bundles each week.
Juan recalled that the decade-long relationship of Binalot and Barangay Buhanginan started after the devastation of Luzon by Typhoon Milenyo in 2006. Harsh winds and heavy rains wiped out most of the banana leaves which were being supplied to the fast-food chain.
“Banana leaves are very fragile and most of the trees and leaves were ripped by the strong typhoon. We were then forced to import our leaves from Iloilo but the costs were not sustainable. That was the time we decided to go straight to the source,” said Juan.
The search led Juan to the quaint town of Nagcarlan at the foothills of the mystic Mt. Banahaw in Laguna.
“Vendors in the market told me to go to Nagcarlan. I found myself visiting the markets and talipapas in that town, asking where the leaves come from. Locals pointed me to the dahunan in Barangay Buhanginan,” Juan said.
Banana is one of the most important fruit crops of the Philippines, with the country producing 9.36 million metric tonnes of bananas on 448,000 hectares of land. However, except for the export Cavendish variety, banana is grown largely in small farming communities in backyards such as in Nagcarlan, traded in markets by local entrepreneurs, and consumed domestically only.
DAHON has received several citations including the once-in-a-lifetime Centennial Prize in the worldwide 2007 UPS Out-of-the-Box Small Business Contest and the Intel-AIM Corporate Social Responsibility Award (IACRA) at the Asian Forum on Corporate Social Responsibility in 2010.
To expand the economic benefits of the program for the farmers, Binalot has also partnered with a program called EMBRACE to introduce salted egg production to Barangay Buhanginan.
“We’ve thought of harvesting other vegetables and crops but we always hit a roadblock when it comes to finding a market for these products,” shared Irene Lucas, Binalot’s COO.
“Assessing our needs, we figured ‘Why not salted eggs?’ Looking at the volume of our consumption as each Binalot meal comes with one salted egg, we felt we found the perfect match for our banana leaves.”