Detours led to fruitful, purposeful path in agriculture:


“Often what may appear as a detour in life is actually the most direct and empowering path to your destination.”—James Arthur Ray

Growing up, 27-year-old Young Farmers Challenge Fund (YFCF) Regional Level awardee Monalisa G. Balon of Daet, Camarines Norte nourished her dream of becoming a journalist. With her passion in writing, she served as the editor-in-chief of their high school newsletter and joined the Student Press Congress.

Being re-routed

The third in a family of ten, the realities of life hit Balon before starting college. Because of her family’s limited financial resources, she missed the remaining slots for incoming Journalism students thus, she had to give up on her dream career and shifted to Mechanical Engineering in a state university in Daet. After one semester, she decided to take up Education instead; however, all slots were also taken when she applied.

Left without a choice, she took up Agricultural Technology which offered free tuition fees in Labo. Despite initial struggles, Balon learned to appreciate her course later on.

“Na-discover ko na marami palang opportunities sa agriculture if mag-engage ka sa ganitong course. Then kaunti ‘yong competition, 19 lang kaming nag-graduate noong time namin,” she related.

The many paths ahead

After graduation, she did not have anything to start with, be it a piece of land or the financial capital to build her own agribusiness. At 24, she had a family with a four-year-old child to sustain. She decided to work as a cashier in a shopping mall and checker in an egg supplier agricultural business in Metro Manila.

After six months of working in the city, Balon decided to go back to her hometown to serve s a full-time mother to her second child. A year later, she got a job as an Administrative Aide at the Philippine Statistics Authority’s (PSA) Agriculture Statistics Division. To augment her growing family’s income, she and her husband Jim started reselling eggs as a small business. Little did she know that it was the start of her journey as a young agripreneur—a breakthrough that she had long been waiting for.

There was only one certified breeder farm for free-range chicken in Camarines Norte and the supply comes mostly from other provinces like Batangas and Camarines Sur. To meet the market demand for fresh eggs and chicken in her community, Balon invested in three heads of Kabir chickens (two hens and one rooster) and two heads of native chicken using the savings from her small business.

“May demand lalo na po dito sa Camarines Norte through observation. Lahat ng supply dito sa amin nanggagaling sa Batangas kasi iilan lang ang may layer farm. Pagdating sa market, ‘yong price mataas pero ‘yong quality hindi na sya fresh, darating dito luma na dahil sa pinagdaanan na travel. Nag-research po ako nang nag-research, mas maganda po ‘yung free-range chicken kasi bukod sa tipid sila sa pagkain, hindi sila gaanong sakitin. Noon ko pa sya gustong simulan kaso wala akong kapital,” she related.

YFCF, the marker of hope

The launch of the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) YFCF Program was a timely opportunity for Balon, who was looking for means to establish her free-range chicken agribusiness, which she later on called J&M Free Range Chicken as derived from her and her husband’s initials. She maximized her backyard space and invested in poultry housing in her family home in Barangay Awitan in Daet, Camarines Norte. Her husband acts as her business partner and co-manager.

After winning the YFCF Program Provincial Level, she used the Php 50,000 start-up capital to buy 43 heads of Rhode Island Red and Dekalb Brown chickens. Aside from using improvised cages and do-it-yourself vegetable grinder made by her father and husband, J&M Free Range Chicken also follows a feeding management for layers and breeders such as a 40 percent vegetarian diet and 60 percent commercial feed. She utilizes vegetables from nearby public markets as feeds. The couple also continued to discover new knowledge on chicken production through webinars provided by the DA Bureau of Agriculture Research (BAR) and the DA Agricultural Training Institute (ATI).

J&M Free Range Chicken now has 91 heads with 50 layers that has 90 percent productivity, 20 heads of breeder stocks, 16 newly-hatched chicks, and five four-month old pullets as replacement stocks for her expansion site. They sell eggs at Php 8 each to various customer segments including housewives, bakery owners, pastry chefs, office employees, backyard farmers and breeders, and health-conscious individuals. Currently, Balon is preparing her enterprise’s expansion site in an 800-square-meter farm lot in Barangay Sto Domingo Vinzons, Camarines Norte.

“Life-changing para sa akin ang maging bahagi ng Young Farmers Challenge Program kasi hindi ko naman ine-expect na mananalo ako. Kung titingnan ko po ‘yong mga kalaban, sila may mga sarili silang lupa. Pinalad lang po talaga ako na mabigyan nitong opportunity kaya talagang thankful po ako kasi kapital po talaga ang wala, pero ‘yong passion po, nandoon po talaga,” Balon said.

She also shared some of the insights that she gained from the program, saying, “Natutunan ko na sa farming, may pera talaga basta masipag at matiyaga ka. Ine-encourage ko po ‘yong iba na may future po sa agriculture kasi nandito na po tayo sa pandemic time, hindi natin alam kung ano ang mangyayari sa hinaharap. Better na mag-invest ka doon sa alam mong ‘pag time na taghirap, may makakain ka at makakapag-supply ka rin ng pagkain sa community.”

The road ahead

After her triumphant stint as Bicol Region’s YFCF Regional Level awardee, Balon envisions herself as a successful agripreneur and youth advocate for farming in about three to five years from now. She also plans to empower housewives by training them to engage in similar agribusiness ventures for an extra source of income.

“Gusto ko pong i-encourage ang ibang kabataan na sa halip na tumutok sa mga bagay na hindi naman kapaki-pakinabang, much better po na mag-involve sila sa agriculture kasi nandito po ang future nating lahat, food is life po kumbaga,” she added. ### (Annielyn L. Baleza, DA V RAFIS)