Bringing hope and innovation to Caraga’s nipa farmers:
The Philippines is known to have an abundance of nipa palm forests, with over 80,000 hectares of coverage to sustain nipa wine makers. But these nipa farmers were in for an unwanted, bumpy ride when the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the regulation of the liquor selling industry.
Local farmers have their fair share of problems in the time of COVID-19. Farm produce was constant in the Caraga Administrative Region until the local government imposed restrictions, including the liquor ban, during the pandemic.
The move greatly affected the farmers in the city of Butuan in Agusan del Norte, whose primary source of income was processing and selling laksuy.
Seeing their community of nipa farmers struggling to make ends meet, a pair of young agripreneurs has thought of a clever way to make use of the usual laksuy or nipa wine, a common byproduct of nipa, to a new normal essential.
A shared vision
With the goal to help their local nipa palm farmers, Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering students Patricia May N. Botecario and Erico C. Calumba teamed up to make an enterprise dedicated to using this agricultural material in order to develop non-conventional products.
“We wanted to make a business that’s not just able to bring food on our tables, but also help our farmers and uplift our fellow youth,” said Calumba.
The 20-year-old Calumba is the son of a jeepney driver and a fish vendor, while 21-year-old Botecario is the daughter of a farmer and a babysitter. The two, who hail from Barangay Pinamanculan, grew up exposed to poverty and witnessed local nipa farmers struggling to make ends meet. Their incomes reached an all-time low during the pandemic, when the liquor ban was implemented.
Cheers to YFCF
“Agribusiness was never on our minds until we saw the post of the Department of Agriculture (DA) for the Young Farmers Challenge Fund (YFCF) Program. We realized that we can make a living now even if we are still students; and not just help our families, but also help our farmer neighbors,” Botecario recalled.
Eager to turn their vision into reality, the two established Lapaqueño and joined the DA’s Search for Outstanding Youth Agribusiness Models, where they landed in fifth place nationwide. The enterprise received a total financial grant of Php 550,000 from the government, which they are now using as start-up capital for their business.
From alcohol to alcohol
Seeing the possibility of turning their existing product to more gold, their first innovative product is a hand sanitizer made from nipa wine. Lapaqueño offers the laksuy hand sanitizers with aloe vera and citronella extract, making the product a hybrid of sanitizer and insect repellant that also moisturizes the skin. Considering the timeliness of the product, Lapaqueño gained high demand and wished to further penetrate the market.
At present, Botecario and Calumba have their eyes set on expanding their business in terms of production and marketing. They have already acquired land where they will be building a production facility. They also purchased construction materials and are currently in talks with government agencies to seek assistance in terms of promoting their products. ###