Jaime Hechanova (68) and his wife Merly (58) have five grown-up children all of whom live separately except for his daughter Emelie (34), whose marriage failed several years ago, leaving her in sole care of her son Emmanuel, who was just two years old at the time. Jaime tragically lost a sixth child in a car accident in 2004.
The Hechanova family home is a wooden house with only a few appliances, and it is situated between the main road and the seashore. Jaime’s livelihood comes from a one-hectare plot of land in front of his home. In the wet season it is used as a fishpond to raise bangus (milkfish), the most popular freshwater fish on restaurant menus in the Philippines. One season’s sale of bangus gives Jaime an income of 8,000 pesos (US$170) a month, enough to cover his family’s basic needs.
During the dry season, from November to April, the fishpond area is transformed into a large salt bed and used to extract salt from seawater. The pond is about 150 meters from the seashore, and the Hechanovas have dug a long canal for the water to reach the salt beds at high tide. The seawater does not fully cover the salt beds so the hired workers use buckets to carry water for the last few meters. Seven workers are employed directly by the family to help with the water carrying and to scrape the salt from the beds, and they are paid a 25 per cent share of the salt proceeds. These employed workers are also subcontractors, and each of them employs around five helpers. In total, 40 to 45 persons are earning incomes from the Hechanovas’ salt beds during the dry season.
There are however days in the dry season that are not good for salt harvesting. Rainfall for example, especially in the first four months of the dry season, will keep the sea water in the salt beds from evaporating. A more predictable problem is the tide, the height of which depends on the positions of the moon and the sun. On about eight days a month, the water level is not high enough for the water to reach the salt beds. On these days, Jaime rents a gasoline-powered generator to pump the water from the shore to his salt basins. The rental cost of the generator is 120 pesos per hour and this does not include the cost of gasoline. In an average dry season he spends 11,000 to 12,000 pesos on generator rental fees.
On a regular salt harvesting day, the Hechanovas and their workers fill up around 15 sacks, each with 50 kilograms of salt, and sell them at an average price of 250 pesos per sack. Their customers are mostly vendors who resell the salt in retail quantities. Last season around 600 sacks were sold and this gave the Hechanovas a net income of around 100,000 pesos ($2,100). After deducting the yearly canal maintenance costs, not much income was left for the family.
Jaime is very keen to maximise his profits over the long term and would like to own a generator instead of having to rent one. A new generator is priced at 19,000 pesos and the four hoses needed to bridge the distance from the shore to Jaime’s field will cost 1,400 pesos each. The PSHF loan of 25,000 pesos will allow the new generator to pay for itself in two seasons, compared to what he now pays for generator rent. From then on it will provide the family with a higher income each season and add to the rewards for their ongoing hard work.
Robin Marques Dreke
PSHF Negros Occidental-South