BONGAO, Tawi-Tawi - Hot Moro sells like hot cakes here and in neighbouring Sabah in Malaysia.
But that has nothing to do with human trafficking.
According to Simunul Mayor Nazif Ahmad Abdurahman, Hot Moro is the label of a homegrown dried, crushed or powdered chili product.
Abdurahman said Simunul farmers started planting different varieties of Philippine chili three years ago to meet the high demand in the province's 307 islets.
"With us Muslims, whatever tribe we may be, our meal is not complete without chilies," Abdurahman said in an interview.
Hadji Faisal Malande, a farmer and now the general manager of Simunul Economic Enterprise (SEE), said farmers started by intercropping chili with coconut.
"Then they realised that they make more money from chili than coconut," he said.
At the Simunul port, buyers wait for farmers to bring their freshly harvested chili, locally known as lara. These are immediately shipped to Sabah, Malaysia.
In mainland Bongao, a kilogram of fresh chili is priced at P300 (S$8.54). During lean months, the price goes up to P700 per kilogram.
Need to organise
Simunul, an island town with a land area of 10,390 hectares, has 14 barangays (villages) and a population of 38,239.
According to Abdurahman, Simunul's sandy loam soil is ideal for chili farming. Three months ago, the local government of Simunul started processing their chili, bringing in more profits for the farmers, "All we need to do is to organise the farmers. Right now, it's a loose group of farmers,"the mayor said.
Numbering about 200, Simunul farmers produce 800 kg of chili per month, Malande said.
P500 per bag
A bag of chili seeds is priced at P500.
"Besides, we can use mature dried fruits for seedlings. We sell 75 per cent of the produce and keep the 25 per cent for seedlings," Malande said.
At the first international business conference held last week by the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), Malande, Abdurahman and other chili growers showcased their Hot Moro chili to visitors. That earned good feedback from regional Gov. Mujiv Hataman.
Hataman has committed to pour in P1 million for chili production in Simunul.
Abdurahman said the chili growers planned to acquire more equipment like a grinder, crusher and solar drier.