Nature has provided for most of our requirements. For thousands of years, man has taken nature’s bounty to fulfill his need for food, clothing, shelter and so much more. Even for his survival.
The lush tropical rainforest conceals a veritable department store of plants that contain chemicals with commercial value. Take for example an orchid in a South American jungle that has yielded vanilla, now widely used to flavor foods. Or the ylang-ylang, a source of an ingredient in perfumes and cosmetics. More recently, researchers discovered a seemingly innocuous plant in Madagascar that contains a chemical for the cure leukemia in children. This has given rise to a new industry in Madagascar as natives now grow and process the plant for pharmaceutical companies.
Considering the diversity of plant life in the Philippines, it is surprising that the commercial potentials of its indigenous plants have not yet been fully explored. The wealth of nature is the economic health for the country’s future.
“Among Filipinos, question should be not unexplained wealth, but unexplained poverty,” opined Ms. Aleli Pansacola, president of Daila Herbal Community Enterprises Inc. So many of the answers to our basic needs can be found in our midst.
Ms. Pansacola’s initiation into the therapeutic wonders of herbs began in the mid-1980s when she joined environmental and other socio-civic groups on weekend forays into the provinces. One such group is the Philippine Institute for Alternative Futures (PIAF). As an active member, she joined the group’s community outreach, conducting teach-ins on values formation and herbal medicine. In these workshops, participants were encouraged to start their own herbal gardens to assure ready supply of materials for homegrown cure for common ailments.
“Unfortunately, the ultimate question in the minds of the participants in the PIAF seminars was: how can I make money out of my herbal gardens?” Aleli recalled. “Answer to this question has to be found to sustain their interest in herbal medicine. Although they realized the convenience of having a drugstore in their backyard, which meant substantial savings in medical expenses, motivation was needed to assure the continuity of what they had started.”
Ms. Pansacola’s research on the potential economic benefits from herbal plants yielded amazing results. She was convinced that some of more common native Philippine plants, when processed, yields high economic value in the world market. In fact, the highly prized ylang-ylang oil and the very expensive patchouli oil are sourced from local plants growing freely in forests throughout the country.
Furthermore, she found out that multinational companies based in the Philippines imported 85 percent of basic raw materials used for the manufacture of cleaning materials such as soaps and detergents. And yet, these ingredients come from plants that grow almost everywhere in the country. Citronella oil is extracted from a veritable wild plant that grows in everyone’s backyard. Patchouli oil comes from herbs that proliferate in volcanic soil such as those in Palawan, Albay and elsewhere. Of course, lemon grass oil is extracted from weed-like plant locally known as tanglad.
Faced with the prospect of turning an industry out of these herbal gardens of citronella, lemon grass, ylang-ylang, and patchouli, Aleli then decided that community residents could use help to culture plants, specifically for essential oil extraction. Requiring very low-input, this “community enterprise” could provide income for the farmers. In just a short time, herbal gardens became an overnight phenomenon in the communities of Laguna and Quezon.
“The production of lemon grass, citronella, ylang-ylang and patchouli in everyone’s backyard garden was so much that the need for processing technology became inevitable. We raised enough funds to fabricate small machines for extracting essential oils from plants and the results became source of greater motivation to develop the business further. However, despite our having produced international-grade lemon grass oil, we were having difficulty finding buyers. The initial enthusiasm of the farmers was beginning to wane. Then I asked myself, why not manufacture the products that use these essential oils? Why beg the multinationals to buy these raw materials?”
Starting a business was not something new for Ms. Pansacola. While she remained a housewife for 13 years, she also occasionally dabbled in business. As a part-time entrepreneur, she busied herself by producing ceramics and specialty T- shirts.
“I have always been creative and artistic. Fortunately, my creations appeal to buyers. But this became short-lived as at some point, I had to stop whatever business I was running for health and other personal reasons,” she admitted.
Then came the need when Aleli had to work to make ends meet. She went into computer business, which was just starting to perk up popular interest. She managed the business quite well along with a business partner until the time she divested from the company.
Four years later, Aleli found a fresh start. This was when she became interested in herbal plants and their applications. Thus began her new business path: a soapmaking venture using all natural and herbal ingredients.
“Many thought I was crazy! They said the laws of chemistry go against what I intended to do. Coconut oil, without synthetic hardeners, for soapmaking drew doubting Thomases. Fortunately, being a non-chemist I was not pegged down by scientific laws,” the intrepid entrepreneur related.
To get started, she needed to have as much information on soap, acquire working knowledge on soap technology and get into the brass tacks of soap business. Aleli took soapmaking courses at the Technology and Livelihood Resource Center where she met someone who offered to fabricate a commercial-size soap mixer for her soap business. The decision to get the soapmaking machine proved to be the right one. At that moment, she knew there’s no turning back. A new leaf for a new beginning.
Daila Herbal Community Enterprises began as a single proprietorship in 1986 with only the proprietor and one assistant doing everything. Although the enterprise engaged the services of a chemist to help refine soap formulations, the ideas for new and innovative products with nothing but natural and herbal ingredients came from Aleli.
“Our experience in R & D was quite disheartening. But, patience and perseverance eventually won out. We were able to come up with a soap formulation that resulted in exactly what we were looking for-a soap that used herbal extracts and natural coconut oil, with none of the harmful synthetic hardeners such as hard alkylbenzene (HAB).”
To date, Daila herbal products range from bath soaps, shampoos, insect repellant, laundry soap and hand sanitizers which appeal to local and international markets.
From a two-man operation, Daila grew steadily. It now operates a fully integrated factory in Pila, Laguna employing 10 regular employees. During peak production months, particularly Christmas season, additional hands are needed. The local community supplies the contractual employees hired on a per piece basis. The factory produces as much as 7,000 kilos of soap daily.
With so much demand, the production relied on the supply of raw materials. The herbal gardens became the strongest link in the production chain. This meant more jobs are being created in the local community.
The Daila soap products found their targets in the local and international markets. They hit the soft spot of many consumers: their weakness for all-natural and clean raw materials and environment-friendly products. Daila soap formulations received recognition from international awards giving bodies. For example, Daila herbal products were given an A rating for product design and composition in April 1991 during the International Pharmacological Fair. In 1996 in Geneva, Switzerland, the 24th Salon International des Inventions gave Daila’s Victoria soap granules the Medaille de Vermiel. Another award came from the East West Euro-Intellect Exhibition of Inventions, Research and Innovations in Sofia, Bulgaria. Daila herbal products received a gold medal, and Victoria soap, special award.
Success in the soap business is never an accident. It is the fruit of hard work. With the soap business running smoothly, Aleli has now focused her attention on market development.
“I admit that we cannot match the expensive advertising campaigns launched by multinational companies. But in terms of quality and price competitiveness, I believe we are doing very well. Volume of production is flexible, thus we can react quickly to market demands,” commented Aleli on the market’s response to Daila products.
Daila products are available in drugstores and department stores and special outlets like lifestyle boutiques. Ever innovative, Aleli has launched her own system of multi-level marketing for Daila herbal products called Kamalig Yaman. A foundation devoted to livelihood enhancement; it has been tasked with organizing interested individuals and groups to become sales agents of Daila herbal products in the Philippines.
“Looking back, the story of Daila has really been one of problem solving. Concern for the protection and preservation of the environment and the promotion of a healthy lifestyle fired up my interest in starting a countryside revolution for natural and clean consumer products. Little did I know that soapmaking business anchored on herbal, natural and environment-friendly values would create streams of community-based livelihood enterprises. Coconut farmers, herbal garden growers, community residents all share in the bounty of nature, in the fruits of honest and hard work,” she confided.
The potentials of soap business are awesome. As an industry, it is estimated to be PhP 18 billion worth annually. Even large multinational companies have not yet fully tapped these potentials.
“Can you imagine if Filipinos started patronizing all natural and herbal soap made by our countrymen? Not only would the coconut farmers and producers of essential oils benefit but also the environment. Compared to detergents produced by multinational companies using synthetic ingredients, Daila herbal products are environment and people-friendly,” she said.
When Aleli Pansacola set up Daila Herbal Community Enterprises, the first responsibility she set on her mind is to give her clients the best quality soap at the best price. The next responsibility she put her heart into is to turn the community into a family of enterprises. Finally, the most important responsibility which she shares with everyone in Daila’s production chain is protection and preservation of the environment.
“I’m in the soapmaking business. We’re supposed to make people clean and healthy. And for me, clean and healthy does not only involve the body, but also the mind and spirit. A clean conscience in business makes for responsible citizenship and member of society.”