The citronella plant is now the new star of the pandemic in Purok Pinagpala, Brgy. Bahile, Puerto Princesa City. The plant was honored through a festival that celebrated the start of the harvest season and the beginning of a new livelihood for about 140 families who are the occupants of what is known as the Habitat Housing Project.
The citronella farm that aims to occupy an estimated five hectares is a project of the Rotary Club of Makati Jose P. Rizal, which contracted Dreamland Farm Development Corporation to develop the citronella plantation. The aim was to make the community a self-sustaining village after years of trainings, seminars, and water system development.
“The festival was held because the grass is tall and ripe for harvest. It will be harvested, processed, and bottled as citronella oil which you see in malls. In the past, the raw oil produced was bought by the members of our Rotary club as it was not in commercial quantities. This time we hope to produce more and sell them to tourists in Puerto Princesa, especially those going to the Underground River.” This was the vision shared by Ms. Patti King, past president of the Rotary Club of Makati Jose P. Rizal (RCMJPR) and club chairperson of the Bahile Project.
The housing project was conceptualized in 1995 during a Skills Training Program conducted by the Women in Travel Manila (WIT) in Puerto Princesa City under the auspices of then Palawan Governor Salvador P. Socrates. Puerto Princesa City Mayor at that time, Mayor Edward S. Hagedorn, sought out the WIT officers, headed by then-President King. He shared his vision of the city with the ladies, and upon learning that Ms. King would become president of RCMJPR the following year and that one of the members was with Habitat for Humanity, he expressed the desire to establish a low-cost housing community for the fisherfolk of Bahile.
Ms. King then established the Rotary Club of Makati Jose P. Rizal Foundation, Inc., and under Mayor Hagedorn the City Government of Puerto Princesa donated 13.7 hectares of land to the Foundation. “We proceeded to get donations and grants from The Rotary Foundation (TRF) and Rotarians to build houses,” she shared. TRF is a global entity that provides grants around the world for laudable projects. We got a grant to build the first 10 houses, and around five years ago we were able to get a grant of $80,000 to conduct values formation, establish a water supply system, and conduct the citronella plantation sustainable livelihood project.
“Mahirap kasi nasa Makati kami, we have to hire consultants and experts over succeeding years until natayo yung Rotary club of Puerto Princesa Uptown nag tie up kami kasi may kilala silang nagde-develop ng farm, and that’s Dreamland Farm Development Corporation, sila yung kinontrata namin at magaling naman,” King added.
King added that they are in high hopes that the program will bear fruit in the future. “During this pandemic the organization which we had hoped to market the oil to, has a contracted market; but there are already entities in Puerto Princesa which are interested in the raw oil. The finished product can be sold to tourists going to the Underground River. The Festival opened the eyes of enterprises that there is actually a supply of citronella in the city itself.”
The barangay captain is also working on Bahile becoming a tourist spot. City Councilor Matthew Mendoza, Chairman of the Tourism Committee in the City Council, attended the Harvest Festival on August 5 and has expressed great interest in the livelihood program as well as the community’s tourism potential.