Manila Times article (Stay safe, go home, and plant camote)

TALAVERA, Nueva Ecija: In times past, when you wanted to rub it in on a brother or a daughter, who fell short of high expectations as the boy or girl most likely, you would tell him or her, “Go home and plant camote.”

Home usually meant the probinsya (province) where the big disappointment of a future doctor or lawyer came from.

Camote or sweet potato, of course, was synonymous to failure with a capital F.

Those were the days, but in this time of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic, don’t get insulted if the condescension is thrown your way, especially if the pitcher is Mayor Nerivi Santos Martinez of Talavera town in Nueva Ecija province in Central Luzon.

Since the pandemic erupted across the globe, including the Philippines, in the first quarter of 2020, Martinez has asked the townsfolk to “go home and plant camote,” which she said was actually a program designed not only to while away the boredom brought by the medical and socioeconomic menace, but more importantly and seriously, also to boost the nutrition intake of her constituents, especially the children.

Early one Saturday dawn this month, the mayor was seen on her official Facebook page, harvesting and raising a Japanese-variety sweet potato in her home front yard, a 50-square-meter lot along Maharlika Highway that serves as a showcase for promoting camote.

Martinez had asked the Central Luzon State University in Muñoz Science City in Nueva Ecija’s Munoz town and the Tarlac Agricultural University in neighboring Tarlac province to help propagate the country’s local-variety ubi (dioscorea alata) and the Japanese-variety purple yam.

Both, according to the mayor, are high-value varieties containing an antioxidant and multiple nutrients that could at least fortify the Talavera townsfolk against Covid-19.

For the camote program, Talavera recently received the First Crown Maintenance Award from the National Nutrition Technical Committee to retain its record of being Central Luzon’s awardee in nutrition for three consecutive years.

The town is also recognized as the “gulayan (vegetable) capital of Nueva Ecija.”

The mayor said she plans to acquire processing equipment for the making of camote by-products, camote buns, camote ice cream, camote chips, crispy camote fries, camote cakes and camote flavors for halo-halo (mixed dessert), among other income-generating opportunities for the residents.

Camote, according to Talavera municipal nutritionist Arjojit Bernardo, is capable of providing nutritional benefits to pregnant women, senior citizens and children, as it supposedly contains vitamins A, K, beta carotene and B-6 as well as thiamine, niacin, zinc, riboflavin, iron, folic acid, calcium and protein.

Martinez said camote products can be part of food packages for distribution not only during the pandemic, but also during floods, typhoons and other natural calamities.

She particularly encouraged the residents in the town’s 54 barangay (villages), including those that recently graduated from a wellness and recovery program, to plant the Japanese variety of camote or the purple yam from Okinawa that is also referred to as the Oriental kotobuki and Satsuma-imo.

Martinez said this variety is common in Japan and is now becoming popular in the United States and other countries.


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