Ilocos entrepreneur promotes sorghum as alternative cash crop and biofuel

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By KC Santos

BATAC, ILOCOS NORTE – For Antonio Arcangel, sweet sorghum may not be an indigenous crop in the country but when cultivated, can offer tremendous benefits.

Antonio, a chemical engineer, decided to bring back his family to the Philippines after years of staying abroad to start his own business.

In 2008, Antonio established Bapamin Enterprises after meeting with researchers from the Mariano Marcos State University in Batac who have recently conducted intensive research on sweet sorghum. The same people would later give Antonio the rights to commercialize their study.

“I initially started planting sorghum but then when I saw that there wasn’t an existing market for this plant. That was when I decided to process it and make sorghum-based products,” says Antonio.

An Indian dignitary visiting the country took notice of Antonio’s efforts and took the hybrid seeds to be tested by the Department of Agriculture. Eventually, Antonio was able to develop products from this crop.

Sweet sorghum is a kind of grain that can grow up to 12 feet high. Unlike sugar cane, more products can be derived from its panicle down to its sugar-rich stalk.

“There’s no such thing as waste. We should only be innovative in developing all parts of a certain raw material,” says Antonio, who later developed food products from sorghum.

From marketing seeds and flour, Antonio eventually developed healthy juices, naturally-fermented cider vinegar, syrups, bread and pastries and very recently, a sweetener made entirely from sweet sorghum.

In using sweet sorghum, consumers get the minerals from high grain products such as protein, calcium and iron and do away with the adverse effects of gluten-infused refined sugar.

Sorghum can also be used to produce ethanol. Not only does it absorb carbon monoxide, the ethanol produced from this crop makes for lower fuel cost, increased fuel octane rating, and decreased harmful emissions.

“I am trying to lobby for the increased participation of farmers in planting this crop because it will not only generate income for them but will have more benefits bigger than they could ever imagine,” Antonio says.

Unlike other crops, cost of production of sweet sorghum is less as it grows back just months after the initial yield. In fact the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-arid Tropics (ICRISAT) estimates a minimum net income of P50,000 and a maximum of P65,000 for growers of sweet sorghum for just two cropping seasons per year.

Though he sees more room for improvement, Antonio’s business has spawned interest among big companies based in Manila. He is also looking into developing more sweet sorghum products while spreading his advocacy for the sweet sorghum industry to thrive.

“I seek the help of our local farmers to look into alternative crops to open more opportunities,” Antonio says.

Get more information about Bapamin Enterprises

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