(First published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Business Monday, January 21, 2013)
Masbate is known for its rolling hills, rich pasture, natural reefs, unpolluted seashores, and gold mines. Not yet a tourist destination, it is considered among the Philippines’ well-kept secrets.
Masbate is likewise dubbed the country’s Cattle Capital, with flora and terrain ideal for raising cattle and other livestock.
The province is also home to modern economic heroes, with a proliferation of OFWs credited for having kept the economy afloat even during years we were Asia’s ‘basket case.’
Despite a dollar-earning population, communities have not thrived as expected. Blame this partly on the inability of OFWs and their families to put their income to productive use.
Nowadays, hopes are high change is about to take place.
OBAC and CRED
The center of change is the town of Baleno where the 57-member organization called OFW Baleno Chapter (OBAC) is based. Founded in 2009, OBAC is composed of OFWS working abroad and those who have returned. Spouses of OFWS also qualify for membership as do parents of single OFWs.
OBAC was formed to improve the lives of OFW families by enhancing their income through entrepreneurship projects. However, as members bided their time, these goals were put on hold.
The inertia was breached last year when OBAC was invited to take part in the project Channelling Remittances for Enterprise Development (CRED) by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Small Enterprises Research and Development Foundation (SERDEF), and UP Institute for Small-Scale Industries (UP ISSI). Funded by the Millennium Development Goal Achievement Fund , the project was implemented within the framework of the UN Joint Program on Alternatives to Migration: Decent Jobs for Filipino Youth.
According to CRED Project Director Nida Lavador of SERDEF, the project started in 2010 as a study to formulate model schemes for channeling overseas remittances to productive, sustainable use for the benefit of the migrant workers, their families and communities.
The study recommended redirecting the money to enterprise creation through market interventions to trigger socio-economic growth in the target provinces.
Using the value chain analysis approach, it identified priority industries to be supported for each of three pilot areas in the country.
One of the CRED pilot provinces is Masbate; and here the industry to support is goat-raising.
OBAC goat farm
In October 2012, a year after the project’s inception, the OBAC Goat Farm began.
The farm is a 1.5 hectare meadow by the seaside, accessible to the main road, and with electrical facility.
Though less than a dozen goats graze there as of now, dozens more are soon expected when the much-awaited grant from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) is released.
OBAC members paid an equity of P2,000 each, most of which went to the building of animal shelters, planting of the forage, fencing of the farm, and other preparations.
This early, there is widespread optimism about the prospects of the venture. OBAC Board Chairman Edgar Ulanday explains why: “There is always a market for goat and goat meat. At present, the supply isn’t enough to meet the demand. We are in contact with agents selling goat to Manila, Batangas, and other places.”
That they are supported by CRED partner-agencies with various forms of help further encourages the members of the OBAC to persist.
Training and other interventions
OBAC President Rofil Ramirez recalls it was in December 2010 that he was invited to attend an orientation in Makati City. “At first I had in mind hog-raising for our group. However, the briefing convinced me goat-raising was more viable because feeds would be inexpensive as we can grow the forage.”
Technical training was then conducted by the Department of Agriculture, where goat-raising expert Willy Melmida taught them the basics – selecting breeds, planting forage, sourcing water, building cages, caring for the young, weaning, de-horning, deworming, immunization and other simple treatments for sick livestock.
CRED also provided the OFW-members training in entrepreneurship and business planning with resource persons from the SERDEF, UP ISSI and Department of Trade and Industry.
Post-training interventions took the form of mentoring in bookkeeping, records-keeping, inventory control, and assistance in applying for grants and loans.
There is also continuing support from various agencies, Ramirez says. “Mr. Willy (Melmida), the DA expert, is always on call. OWWA is giving us computer training. We also ask help from the municipal veterinarian, the provincial office, etc.”
Lavador confirms the multi-sectoral nature of the project. “Long after the IOM-SERDEF leaves the area, the LGUs and DTI, DOLE, DOST, LandBank, and OWWA provincial offices would still be around to support the OFWs and OFW-groups.” The partners’ commitment ensures sustainability, she adds.
According to Luisa Lee, Project Manager for Masbate, CRED spawned not only group enterprises, but also individual businesses for Baleno’s OFWs.
Federico Salivio, Jr., a nautical engineer and 15 years a seaman with ARAMCO, put up his own goat farm with a starting stock of nine does and one buck, after attending technical and entrepreneurship training.
Joanna Medina, married to an OFW, also joined the training and now has a general-merchandise store in Masbate City. There are others already in business to begin with – like furniture-maker Joe Esquilona and fishpond-owner Charmie Bello – who are expanding their operations with help from CRED.