Aug 042013

Hunger and malnutrition are widespread in many less-developed countries. Globally, it is recognized that the agriculture sector has yet to make progress in improving the nutrition and health of poor farmers and consumers in developing countries. Agricultural practices and policies can be improved and redesigned to maximize its contribution to health and nutrition benefits.

It is a good thing that in the Philippine setting, agriculture plays a very important role in the Philippine economy as well as providing the daily nutritional needs of every Filipino. We are seeing more and more agri-entrepreneurs focusing their efforts on agri-produce that contribute to healthier Filipinos. 

In relation to the celebration of nutrition month, I am featuring some of the most hardworking entrepreneurs who contribute to the success of both agriculture and nutrition of Filipinos. These five agri-entrepreneurs are featured in our book, 50 Inspiring Stories of Agri-entrepreneurs. 

Mother’s rice

Rice is a staple food for Filipinos. Henry Lim Bon Liong is one of the most diligent people advocating for high quality and productivity in rice production. In 1998, Henry, who started with the Sterling card and stationery business, met the “national treasure” of China, professor Yuan Longpin, because of his valuable agriculture research. Inspired by the professor, he started SL Agritech to focus on hybrid rice production, which led to the development of the first line of mestizo hybrid rice. Because of his genuine efforts to improve Philippine rice production, Henry is now supplying the variety that produces the delicious and fragrant rice he calls “Doña Maria,” named after his late mother. Their hybrid seeds are even being exported to Nigeria, Indonesia and Bangladesh, among others. Henry believes that rice farmers should not be poor and that hybrid rice is a viable solution to increasing their yields and income.

Vegetable able

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When he was just 16, Lyndon Tan started working in his family’s rice and coconut oil milling business, making him comfortable working with farmers. Coming from Bicol where typhoons are rampant, he considers weather as the biggest factor in farming.

He later discovered that his heart was not in rice milling. Looking for some enlightenment, he went on a retreat at the Cannosian Sisters’ Convent in Tagaytay City. There, he met an 80-year-old Italian nun who talked to him and showed the lettuce and herbs she’d planted. Just as the Italian nun suggested, he ventured into being, first a vegetable trader, then eventually an actual vegetable farmer. In 1998, he bought a piece of property in Silang, Cavite, and established Basic Necessity, which produces a lot of high-value vegetables that more and more Filipino consumers can buy from big supermarkets or order from established restaurants.

Coconut can

The Philippines is definitely rich in coconut. Jun Castillo, the dedicated advocate and president of Coconut House, believes that there is no reason why close to four million coconut farmers all over the Philippines should be among the poorest in the country.

Jun has pushed this advocacy to educate them various ways to make the most of their coconuts, and not just rely on the production of copra, which is dried coconut meat processed into coconut oil. Jun admits, however, that a very small number of coconut farmers rely on more than just copra for their income.  “The Coconut House was built to showcase everything about coconut,” he says. “We want to tell people that all of the products were produced by coconut farmers, among the most impoverished and neglected in the Philippines.” He says it’s good that more Filipinos are becoming open to healthy food alternatives and this means great growth prospects for the coconut farmers.

Goat-ING success

Jeffrey Lim regards goat-raising as a hobby. This hobby made a special mark on him after his friend from Tarlac City asked if he could find him a goat that he could cook for his birthday. Jeffrey thought that the task was easy since he saw a lot of farmers raising goats in their backyard. But he was wrong and discovered the supply of goats was quite limited. So he and his wife decided to try raising, at first, six goats. The next year, they started selling goats for slaughter. Three years later, Jeffrey converted his goat-breeding hobby into a full-blown business venture. The offspring from his mature stock became JSJ Farm’s initial breeding stock. Several breeding cycles later, Jeffrey finally had breeding stock for sale. That’s when his goat breeding venture started to soar.

They are now expanding into production of goat’s milk and feta cheese.

Sweet victory

They say that sometimes we need to move out of our comfort zone to excel, improve, learn and discover new opportunities that can probably change our life. Joel Magsaysay did it in 1993 when he decided to change his lifestyle from the corporate world to farm living. The only thing that triggered him to make this big decision in his life was that he knew he would become happier. Starting up a business that he had no knowledge about did not hinder him from establishing his Ilog Maria Honeybee Farm. Then, all he knew was he needed honey for his stamina in surfing and that he loved nature. From nine bee colonies, they now have about 800. With almost 30 years of experience, they still believe that there are a lot more challenges to face. Joel’s family is confident that they can overcome every challenge along the way as long as they are all together. With love, passion, creativity and perseverance, everything can be done.

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