Women in the Pili Industry

These amazing women are at the forefront of the movement towards a more sustainable future

March 16, 2023


The Bicol region in the Philippines, with its lush vegetation and abundant wildlife, is a natural wonder. One of the most essential trees in this region is the pili tree (Canarium ovatum and Canarium luzonicum) which has numerous benefits for both the environment and the local population.

Within the region, in the provinces of Albay, Camarines Sur, and Sorsogon, a revolutionary initiative is currently underway. Through the partnership between the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in the Philippines, and the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) Project is working to achieve equitable benefit sharing among local communities - the backbone of our agrobiodiversity - centering on empowering them. With a focus on pili byproducts, this groundbreaking project is strengthening a fair benefit-sharing framework, ensuring that local communities receive the benefits they deserve.

As we celebrate Women's Month, it is important to acknowledge the incredible contributions of women leaders in the pili industry. These amazing women are at the forefront of the movement towards a more sustainable future. We recently had the privilege of speaking with three of these inspiring women, each with her own story of perseverance and determination.


A farmer and a trailblazer

Sheriza Shaika Requiero's work in sustainable pili farming shows how the youth can have a transformative power in the cooperative sector.

Photo by EJ Tiu/ABS Project

Sheriza Shaika Requiero is a young and dynamic leader who is making a significant impact in the cooperative sector. At 32 years old, Sheriza serves as the chairperson of the Quipia Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association Cooperative (QARBC) in Albay, Philippines, where she oversees the processing of pili nuts.

Sheriza’s journey into farming and cooperative leadership began when she was working in Dubai and saw pili products from her hometown on display at a Filipino store. Inspired to make a difference, she returned to the Philippines to pursue her passion for farming and pili processing. She now owns and manages a six-hectare pili farm, registered as a Learning Site for Agriculture (LSA), and has been awarded 1.7 hectares of land under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) of the Philippine government.

As chairperson of the QARBC, Sheriza takes responsibility for ensuring compliance with sanitary standards and managing the cooperative's marketing efforts. Her collaborative leadership style is rooted in the lessons she learned from her mother, who was the former general manager of the cooperative. According to her, decision-making in the cooperative is consultative, and all suggestions are respected and considered regardless of age and gender.

Sheriza shares that she faced challenges when she first assumed leadership of the cooperative. Some members doubted her capability because of her relative youth and lack of experience compared to others. However, the members began trusting her when they saw development under her leadership. Today, QARBC has 150 active members, and 50% of them are women.

Her innovative spirit is evident in the way she has integrated biogas into her pili farm, using the liquid waste from her swine production. She also encourages fellow farmers to adopt an integrated farming approach that offers multiple income sources, especially since pili trees bear fruit only once a year.

Sheriza believes that pili is a low-maintenance tree and an excellent source of income. She encourages more community members to venture into farming, pointing out that the presence of pili trees provides a habitat for a variety of wildlife, and their deep roots help to prevent erosion and soil damage.

Being a leader is a significant responsibility, and it is not an easy task. However, I have embraced this challenge and faced various difficulties along the way. Witnessing my mother's leadership in managing the community and serving as the former general manager has been a source of inspiration for me. As a woman leader, I also consider myself a servant-leader who works alongside the members, prioritizing their needs and serving them selflessly.
Sheriza Shaika Requiero, Quipia Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association Cooperative (QARBC) Chairperson

Sheriza is a shining example of the transformative power of youth leadership and innovation in the cooperative sector. Her dedication and commitment to sustainable farming and pili processing have undoubtedly made a significant impact on her community. The ABS Project aims to share best practices among communities, providing them with opportunities to improve productivity and conservation practices.


Age is just a number

At 79, Norma Galindes manages six hectares of land and over 30 pili trees which provide a livelihood for ten families in her community.

Photo by EJ Tiu/ABS Project

Norma Galindes, a 79-year-old widow from Sta. Magdalena, Sorsogon, is breaking down barriers and proving that age and gender should not hinder one's passion and perseverance. Despite her age, Norma is managing six hectares of land and over 30 pili trees, which provide a livelihood for ten families in her community.

What sets Norma apart is her unwavering drive and unconquerable spirit. In 1968, while still teaching, Norma began pili farming as a side hustle. By 2002, she had retired from teaching to pursue her love of farming full-time. Over the years, she has honed her pili processing skills, sharing her knowledge with others and actively participating in community initiatives. Though she no longer engages in farm labor, Norma manages her pili farms full-time and processes pili into delicious candy, which she sells to a local consolidator.

Norma's resourcefulness and entrepreneurial acumen have made her an excellent negotiator, ensuring fair prices for her products. Her pili farming income covers household expenses and helps support her grandchildren's education, proving that even women in their golden years can still be the backbone of their families. Age is just a number, and Norma's example shows that it should never hinder one's dreams or ambitions. The ABS Project aims to enhance the negotiating skills of community members regarding contracts and agreements on the use of pili as a genetic resource sourced from their area.

It is incredible to witness the wealth of knowledge that can be uncovered by socializing with people from diverse backgrounds within our community. What's even better is that age is not a limiting factor in the pursuit of knowledge. Learning is a lifelong journey that should be welcomed at any stage in life. Personally, I hope that my children and grandchildren will also have the privilege of learning and experiencing the joys of pili farming.
Norma Galindes, pili farmer
Sustainable livelihood through women cooperatives    

Marietta Abellana supports her family's household expenses through her income from pili processing.

Photo by EJ Tiu/ABS Project

In the town of Irosin, Sorsogon is a cooperative that champions sustainable livelihood and environmental conservation. Known as Bigkis Farmers Producers Cooperative (BFPC), this organization is employing innovative pili processing techniques to create an array of products that is both eco-friendly and profitable.

BFPC’s dedication to supporting the local community is evident in their purchase of pili and processing these into various products. They have managed to utilize pili for a variety of products – from scrumptious candies to pili oil used for cooking, skincare, hair care, and massage oil. Beyond the products, their production methods are also environmentally friendly and sustainable, highlighting their commitment to safeguarding biodiversity.

Through the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), BFPC has successfully trained around 20 women in the art of pili processing. These women are empowered to take control of their financial futures, with skills ranging from cooking and packaging to labeling and marketing. One inspiring woman, Marietta Abellana, joined BFPC to support her family's household expenses. With her daily salary of Php 300 and a weekly commission of Php 450, Marietta can provide her children with ample school allowance. She encourages other women to join BFPC and take advantage of the cooperative's supportive environment and training programs.

BFPC has begun to embrace the digital age and expand its reach through online marketing, which will undoubtedly bring their amazing products to new markets outside of Bicol. With their strong support system and innovative techniques, BFPC is poised to make a significant difference in the lives of women and the environment. The ABS Project will document the roles of women along the pili value chain and leverage priority government projects that empower women to implement ABS principles in the pili industry.

The challenges I have faced in life have motivated me to join the cooperative. I wanted to have an additional source of income to help my husband with the household expenses. I encourage other women to join BFPC, as it provides valuable training and support in processing pili, which is essential to our livelihoods.
Marietta Abellana, Bigkis Farmers Producers Cooperative (BFPC) member

The success of the pili industry hinges on the tireless efforts of women who take on the crucial roles of farming, processing, and marketing. These remarkable women not only sustain the industry but also support their families and communities. The ABS Project recognizes the pivotal contribution of these women to the pili industry and is committed to promoting gender equality. By providing opportunities for capacity-building, women can enhance their skills and increase their bargaining power with pili users, ensuring fair access to benefit-sharing agreements for all involved. Women in the pili industry are at the forefront of implementing sustainable agrobiodiversity practices and innovative approaches, and the ABS Project supports these efforts with a comprehensive biodiversity management plan.

Women in the pili industry play a crucial role in environmental conservation by encouraging sustainable methods and protecting biodiversity. These efforts serve as a poignant reminder of the importance of community-led initiatives in protecting the natural environment for generations to come and promoting sustainable livelihoods.

The Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) Project, also known as the Implementing the National Framework on Access and Benefit Sharing of Genetic Resources and Associated Traditional Knowledge in the Philippines, is implemented by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources - Biodiversity Management Bureau (DENR-BMB), in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in the Philippines with generous support from the Global Environment Facility (GEF).