Friday, July 27, 2018

Living on a duck egg embryo's tale

A duck egg's embryo called "balut"
MANILA -- As dusk sets in, a limping woman would carefully load up a basket full of egg embryos called “balut” in Tagalog, along with her small stool, on a small wooden cart and slowly descend to the street corner about 200 meters away from where she lived.

Wearing her usual black sweater and a bull cap, Aling Inday, a native of Leyte province, would slowly position her cart on the sidewalk, close to the terminal of tricycles and jeepneys, where hungry drivers would usually buy “balut” to energize themselves from a hard day’s drudgery.

Not far from her favorite spot is the police substation, where she could always run to file a complaint if anybody bothers her. She eases herself down on a stool to wait for customers; lights her small kerosene lamp to provide a little illumination enough to distinguish the money that changed hands between her and the customers. This activity goes all the way until the egg contents of the basket have been sold out. Then she goes home at past midnight, counts her night’s earnings and lay down on the couch, which serves as her temporary bed. Home is a small wooden shack that stands along the edge of the Pateros River.

Pateros River empties into the Pasig River, a major water tributary in Metro Manila that was envisioned to become an alternative route for public commuters in Metro Manila, with the Metro Manila Development Authority as the lead agency to manage the program. Water ferries had to ply the route between Guadalupe in Makati City to Escolta, Manila, where passengers can take off, and vice versa. After a couple of years into the program, Pateros River had dried up for reasons unknown to many. It didn’t only cut the livelihood of the people living along the river but also killed the “balut” industry where a lot of people have to depend on for their livelihood.

I had been a witness as I lived only across the river in the village of Comembo, a part of Makati City on the other side. A concrete bridge separated the town of Pateros from Comembo. Across the river each morning, I could see how duck raisers on the other side would tend to their flocks of brown ducks to forage for shells on the river. But everything went to standstill when water stopped flowing into the tributary.

Per my recollection, Aling Inday, a neighbor of ours, gets up at dawn to rush up to a nearby wholesaler located across the bridge that connects the village of Comembo, Makati City to the town of Pateros, then a popular hub for this exotic egg embryo where thousands of vendors from across Metro Manila would congregate in order to get their orders in the soonest possible time on a “first come, first served basis.” Whoever comes the earliest would be first on the line, a dictum that has persisted for so many decades.

Over many decades, this economic scenario has been portrayed as a surreal depiction of what the “balut” industry did to at least provides livelihood to some hopeless but industrious people who try to make a living under the dog-eat-dog completion.

Nobody would ever thought that the Pateros River, which has become a haven for thousands, if not millions, of mallard ducks which labeled the small town of Pateros as the “egg embryo” capital of the Philippines since the pre-war years.

"Balut" vendors would slowly descend most of Metro Manila city street pavements to peddle their goods thus transforming empty corners into a hectic frenzy, but also allowing them these enterprising mortals to survive in the midst of the dog-eat-dog competition.       

Lit by a kerosene lamp beside her basketful of balut eggs, the female vendor sits, huggling her knees to her breast to at least to warm her   body from the night's cold breeze created by the monsoon season and oblivious of the risks that might occur as she awaits for customers.       

From time to time, passers-by, some drunks and some are ordinary workers who just wanted to add more energy to their tired bodies, do drop by to buy one, two or three pieces, depending on how much cash they have in their pockets.        

The vendor looks up with a welcome smile and readily unfurls the thick, white cloth that is used to cover the eggs and to preserve the heat inside the basket. Then she carefully picks the egg that is good for the unsuspecting customer, who makes sure that it contains more yolk , aside from the chick embryo   inside its shell. After the customer pays for a piece of egg, he immediately breaks its shell and sips its warm, salty liquid that could provide more nourishment to the body.      

As always, this is the case. But more than this, selling of "balut" egg (a duck's embryo) has become a source of livelihood for the unschooled and for those who merely wanted to earn extra income. Everyday is a drudgery, from dusk till dawn, generating an income that is barely enough to buy them food.       

Although, Westerners look at it as a spoiled delicacy never seen elsewhere in the   world. But "balut" or embryonated duck's egg is a favorite food of average income Filipinos, whose penchant for this exotic delicacy have not slackened in years. But mind you, professionals are slowly smitten by this delicacy, too.       

In fact, the balut industry has contributed a lot to enhancing the country's "livestock revolution", a program that is expected to bring brighter prospects for
the poor.       

In the Philippines, for more than two decades since the 80s, poultry contributions to agriculture and per capita   utilization has been steadily growing.         

The duck industry, for one, has been a great contributor.   In fact, volume of production of duck eggs in 2001 was up again 0.84 percent, compared to its
2000 figures. But demands will continue to grow, particularly in the developing countries.         

This, according to development analyst, is a livestock revolution that holds promise for relieving widespread micronutrient and protein malnutrition while
intensifying smallhold agriculture, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) reported.        

From 1991 to 2000, for instance, volume of duck eggs grew from 33,456 to 53,631 tons during the same period.  As duck raising is a lucrative business in the Philippines, it has therefore been an important source of income to the farmers, especially those living near bodies of water.   Ducks are usually raised for their eggs, which are made into "balut" (embryonated 16 to 18-day-old eggs) or salted eggs.          

It added that a 1000-head layer duck production module is capable of generating a return-on-investment (ROI) of 20 percent and 47 percent for the first and second year, respectively.        

Besides bringing in the needed nutrition and cash to resource poor farmers and enterprising businessmen, the "powerful duck" also help rid ricefields of the
eggs of golden apple snail, a pest that is causing damage to the ricefields.        

Ducks also feed on the snails, which serve as intermediate host for larval stages of the parasite causing fasciolosis to buffaloes, cattle, and goats. 

By allowing 4 to 5-month-old ducks to graze on rice 35-40 days after planting, at a stocking rate of 800-1000 ducks per hectare, farmers not only eliminate the proliferation of unwanted snails but also minimize weed formation.          

As ducks trample and feed on them, savings on weeding are realized while taking advantage of rice leftovers after harvest.   And with their fecal droppings all over the field, soil fertility is improved.        

In some Asian countries and in some swine farms in the country, ducks are also used to aerate stagnant water in lagoons and canals where waste materials flow.   By allowing the ducks to wade in them, the stagnant water is disturbed, allowing oxygen to penetrate and dissolve.         

Considering that the country has the needed breeds to make a profitable enterprise, the duck industry therefore has enough chance to make the livestock revolution work for the poor.  

The Philippine Mallard duck or "itik" and the Muscovy duck or "bibe" are popular breeds raised for egg and meat, respectively. The country earlier produced
the Laguna duck, another meat-type duck produced from a three-way cross among the Peking drake, the Philippine Mallard and the Muscovy drake, a similar breed to the Taiwan mule duck.   It has an average feed efficiency of 3.20 and offers better quality meat.       

Furthermore, the duck industry has a competitive advantage over other poultry industries. Ducks require little attention and thrive well on almost all kinds
of environmental conditions.   They are also highly resistant against common avian diseases.   Unlike chicken, they have a longer life span.        

It is easy to see that indeed the duck is a powerful and versatile animal, potent enough to be relied upon to sustain its role in the livestock revolution, the DOST said.  

After so many years of economic upheavals, due to close competition from other balut (duck egg) producers, the industry went into a limbo. The former town of Pateros (now a city in Metro Manila) used to be the beehive of the duck egg-producing industry in the Philippines until its unexpected demise after Martial Law.

 The military regime had nothing to do with it. From where I lived across the Pateros River in Comembo, Makati City in the 70s, I could clearly see how the ducks’ owners herded and fed them early in the morning on a patch of land on the side of the river where they’re normally housed. Each morning, they’re let loose to feed and allowed to cleanse themselves on the river for a couple of hours.

Under the current regime, where thousands had been killed for selling illegal drugs, selling "balut" eggs would be a better option to fight poverty. But that could only be realized if the government would provide a little capital for these impoverished lot, many of them had been hauled off to the police stations on a recent crackdowns for being branded as "istambays".


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