AIDFI’s program evolution began in the early 2000s where it had two main programs the development, manufacturing and installation of appropriate technologies and its agricultural program.
The programs evolved into what is now the main flagship program a perfected model of the hydraulic ram pump and the essential oil project as part of becoming a social enterprise. The search for a viable alternative for far flung communities started in 2003 when Auke Idzenga attended a conference on essential oils and got introduced to the idea of producing essential oil from lemongrass. Prior to which he already worked with his father in law in Brgy. Mambugsay, Cauayan, Negros Occidental in marketing lemongrass for ‘chicken inasal’ in Bacolod but the transport, cost and low value of lemongrass leaves proved to be more difficult than beneficial.
AIDFI combined its technical, organizational skills and marketing from years of experience to develop the essential oil project, the technical team designed, developed and built a unique essential oil steam distillery while the community development team started introducing the concept of decentralized essential oil distillation and organizing farmers in Brgy. Mambugsay, Cauayan, Negros Occidental in an association.
After months of testing the unique designed essential oil steam distillery in Bacolod it was finally ready to be installed. So, in 2004 the team constructed a decentralized small-scale factory in the mountains of Brgy. Mambugsay and trained members from the association on the cultivation, harvesting and processing of the lemongrass plants. It also set-up ferrocement ponds for irrigation on the farms of the members.
The pioneering pilot project is in collaboration between AIDFI and a farmers group the Mambugsay Essential Oil Producers Association (MEOPA). It is a seriously run enterprise.
In 2011, another make shift factory was set-up in the mountains of Sitio Ananggue, Brgy. Buenavista, Murcia, Negros Occidental.
The associations operated the small-scale factory while AIDFI provided the marketing, technical and organizational support. A small laboratory was built at AIDFI for the final processing, packaging and delivery of the final product to different clients. Aside from the income that is derived for the farmers who earn the biggest part from it, some buyers also provided additional assistance to the communities like educational scholarships, school supplies distribution, Christmas packages etc.
In 2013, through a grant from the Japanese Embassy the 1st ideal factory was constructed in Brgy. Mambugsay, Cauayan, Negros Occidental. It significantly increased production efficiency and kept up with required industry standards. The factory features a drying rack for lemongrass leaves, chopping area, distillation area, laboratory for processing and storage room.
The venture in business terms it would be a crazy idea to set-up such a decentralized factory high in the mountains as such the case of sugarcane where it must be transported from the mountains on big trucks to centrals for the processing. But AIDFI has proven that it is possible.
The hopes to set-up another ideal factory in another partner community is still in the making after several years. The factories ensure high quality standards for its buyers as well as the social impact on these communities are big. AIDFI has the marketing, technical and organizational skills but lacks financial capability to fund such a project.
Currently, the communities produce 50 liters a month but at full scale capacity of the factories it can be increased significantly.
Why Essential Oil?
- The Essential Oil program is perfect for far flung communities since it concerns high volume-low value input (200 kg’s) and delivers low volume-high value output (1 liter);
- Decentralized replicable small sized production units (7-14 hectares);
- No need for fertilizer if distilled leaves are returned to the fields;
- Innovativeness of the lemongrass production and processing makes the farmers proud;
- Associations create empowerment;
- Set up of factories and manufacturing of equipment's can be done completely local creating employment;
- Farmers are directly paid after the distillation;
- Very low transportation cost (from ‘factories’ to AIDFI lab) compared to any other crop;
- Harvesting and therefore distillation is done batch by batch resulting in a spread income for the farmers, diminishing the need to borrow from loan sharks or to engage in activities like charcoal making.
Lemongrass plants are taken from fully grown ones and then sorted out for replanting. Newly planted lemongrass take 4-6 months to fully grow. The variety being is the West-Indian lemongrass. Once planted lemongrass plants can grow 3 to 6 feet in height.
Harvesting of lemongrass shall follow the correct harvest cycle. For newly planted this can be harvested on but not later than a period of 6 months. Succeeding harvest can be done on a 2 month cycle up to two years before they have to replanted.
Harvested lemongrass plants are then transported from farm to the distillery were they will be dried on drying racks before entering the processing (chopping, loading and distillation).
Chopped leaves are then ready to be loaded into the distillery. 200 kgs of chopped leaves would approximately give one (1) liter.
After a distillation period of 2-3 hours the oil is then put in a dark container for storage ready to be brought to to the final processing area for packaging.
Boiled leaves are transported back to the farms to be used for compost on the land. Each farmer takes his/her own boiled leaves.
Aside from the main product which is the lemongrass oil. The by-product (hydrosol) a clear to foggy watery substance can be used as an disinfectant for household purposes.
The processed raw material is brought to Bacolod where the final testing and quality checking is done prior to the packaging and sending out to the clients.