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Last Friday, we conducted our first Agri-Negosyo Summit and it was a huge success! It showed the very strong interest on this vital sector in the economy. We just expected about 2,000 to attend, but two days before the event we had close to 6,000 confirming participants including more agriprenuers willing to pay a nominal fee to attend, plus schools wanting to send more delegates. Luckily we were able to move to a much bigger hall at the World Trade Center and over 7,000 people came, and this shocked us and our guest speakers that day. Our 15 Agriprenuer awardees and our 40 speakers were in awe with the packed crowd as none of us expected the interest level in agri business to be this high.
In my speech, I mentioned that I was happy to see many people attending the session in agri. The notion of agriculture to many Filipinos is poverty. We hear stories of farmers in the countryside finding it difficult to make both ends meet, and whose children have no intention of becoming a farmer. What we see in postcards is a struggling farmer plowing the rice fields or a poor fisherman in his banca, catching fish. These are the images we see as we drive around the Philippines. We cannot put an end to poverty in this country if we don’t improve the income of the farmers and fisherfolks. It’s time we start to paint a new picture of a rich farmer and fisherman.
But how do we do this? First we must show that there is money in agribusiness. The Agri Negosyo Summit attempted to focus the discussions on the various successful and profitable agri negosyo models, proven by the entreps in those crops or products. It could be new ways, better technology, or seed varieties that can increase the harvest and income of a farmer.
One example is the hybrid rice which can increase the yield of a farmer and can double/ triple his regular income. The challenge is to always improve your current agri-business model.
Tennyson Chen, owner of Bounty Fresh, has a story which basically started with a small farm and he told the audience that he bought his equipment from RFM Corporation, a company I currently run as CEO. Today, he is one of the largest producers of dressed chickens and his poultry farms are all on tunnel ventilation. He also has forward linked by creating over 1,000 Chooks-to-go roasted chicken stores.
After my speech, Secretary Kiko Pangilinan gave his message that agriculture is the key to food security since majority of people are dependent on it. He also shared that 60 percent of the labor force are from the agri sector and when these people earn, the economy will benefit. It is true that this sector will be a large player in the economy only when given the right support from the government and private sector.
Sen. Cynthia Villar also empowered the audience by sharing that agriculture will bring back the glory days of the Philippine economy. She inspired the audience when she said that she wanted to uplift the lives of farmers and fishermen through programs and advocacies. Sen. Villar is one of our partners in promoting entrepreneurship.
I was so inspired listening also to Dr. Jaime Alip of CARD MRI who was part of the keynote forum. A story that shows how passion, perseverance and a good business model can increase your chance to succeed. Dr. Alip is a Ramon Masaysay awardee, founder of the biggest micro finance institution today, and a real enabler of micro and small entrepreneurs. When he was just starting, he was invited to Japan to speak to one of the funding agencies, but he had no money to stay in a hotel so he stayed in the airport for three days. His Japanese friend, who owns a funding company, noticed that he was wearing the same suit every time they met. But it wasn’t a hindrance, instead it showed his passion and determination and because of that, his friend granted him his first loan of $10,000.
We had four great forums that day, including a panel with all agri-enablers, and while the summit was supposed to end at five, it closed at almost 7 p.m. due to the number of people falling in line to ask questions. We also recognized 15 inspiring agriprenuers that day. They too were all encouraged after listening to the different stories of the panellists. One agriprenuer who travelled so far just to attend the event said that she was about to give up, but after listening to all the panellists, she said that she was re-energized and will now apply her new learnings. Another farmer shared his experience with Henry Lim Bon Liong’s hybrid rice. He shared how he was able to triple his harvest and income per hectare.
The reason why Go Negosyo is promoting agripreneurship is because millions of Filipinos have no other choice but to be in agriculture. Since they live near the sea and agricultural land, they might as well learn how to maximize these resources to start a negosyo. With the Go Negosyo bill now signed into law, agri-negosyo should be a major component here. It is time we start changing the mindset of many and inject the idea that there is money in tilling the land- that farmers should start being proud of themselves and stop saying that, “Magsasaka lang ako.”
If farmers in America, South America, Europe and even in some parts of Asia can drive beautiful cars and own nice homes, it can also happen here in our own country. If we don’t see our agripreneurs move up the ladder of success, poverty in the Philippines will never go away.