Five agripreneurs hailed winners at the YABONG Bootcamp

  • By Shielo Pasahol (Contributor: Denica Samantha Aguirre)
  • 15 May 2024

Five young agricultural business owners were granted 50 thousand pesos each as seed money to improve their vegetable and commodity farm businesses on 9 May 2024 at the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) headquarters, Los Banos, Laguna.

YABONG Graduates along with East-West Seed and SEARCA representatives.YABONG Graduates along with East-West Seed and SEARCA representatives.

The grants were given under the banner of the Young Agripreneurs Building Opportunities, Nurturing Growth (YABONG) Bootcamp. The grantees— Ms. Kristine Mae Baluzo, Mr. Mark Lee Babaran, Mr. Christian Paolo Magsino, Ms. Rochelle Lafrades, and Mr. Robert Diala, were the top picks from 16 participants after a closed-door presentation of their business improvement plans (BIPs) to the panel of judges.

As part of their graduation requirements, the participants successfully submitted their BIPs, incorporating all the learnings they incurred from the YABONG hybrid training (online and face-to-face) on vegetable farming and entrepreneurship. The three-month YABONG Bootcamp was organized by SEARCA, in collaboration with East-West Seed Philippines, with the support of East West Seed Foundation.

The panel of judges consisted of Dr. Glenn B. Gregorio, SEARCA Center director; Mr. Jose Marie Lopez, general manager of East-West Seed Philippines; Dr. Mary Ann Sayoc, president of East-West Seed Foundation Philippines; Mr. Enrique Villaroman, Go Negosyo mentor, and Mr. Joselito Florendo, SEARCA's deputy director for administration. The judges assessed the BIPs based on completeness, implementation feasibility and sustainability, innovativeness and entrepreneurship, and confident delivery.

Mr. Villaroman further emphasized that there is a future in agriculture. "Mayroon palang pera sa agrikultura, may kinabukasan sa agrikultura." (There is money in agriculture, there is hope in agriculture.) "Nothing would ever please me more than hearing your success stories. You are all winners in my book," he added.

In his message, Mr. Lopez reminded everyone that change should be welcomed, not feared. "Don't stop and move on. When there's change, there's improvement. When there's improvement, there is growth," he shared.

Standing (from left to right) are Dr. Joselito Florendo, Mr. Enrique Villaroman, Dr. Glenn Glegorio, Mr. Roberto Diala, Ms. Rocelle Lafrades, Mr. Mark Lee Babaran, Ms. Kristine Mae Baluzo, Dr. Mary Ann Sayoc, and Mr. Jose Marie Lopez during the awarding of the PHP 50,000 check.Standing (from left to right) are Dr. Joselito Florendo, Mr. Enrique Villaroman, Dr. Glenn Glegorio, Mr. Roberto Diala, Ms. Rocelle Lafrades, Mr. Mark Lee Babaran, Ms. Kristine Mae Baluzo, Dr. Mary Ann Sayoc, and Mr. Jose Marie Lopez during the awarding of the PHP 50,000 check.

The awarding of the top five winners was announced at the graduation ceremony held in the afternoon at the SEARCA Umali Auditorium. Dr. Gregorio opened the ceremony by encouraging the graduates that the commencement is just the beginning. "Going into agriculture will not guarantee you being rich, it will guarantee you happiness," he said. It was then followed by each panelist, who also expressed gratitude and encouragement to the graduates for their time and effort to participate in the program.

Yabong winners (Ms. Kristine Mae Baluzo, Mr. Mark Lee Babaran, Ms. Rochelle Lafrades, Mr. Christian Paolo Magsino, and Mr.Roberto Diala, pitching their BIPs to the panel of judges at the Sam-Arng room at SEARCA.Yabong winners (Ms. Kristine Mae Baluzo, Mr. Mark Lee Babaran, Ms. Rochelle Lafrades, Mr. Christian Paolo Magsino, and Mr.Roberto Diala, pitching their BIPs to the panel of judges at the Sam-Arng room at SEARCA.

Ms. Kristine Mae Baluzo, owner of the Baluzo Farm, impressed the judges with her proposal to expand her Organic Certification Center of the Philippines (OCCP)-accredited organic agriculture farm in Daet, Camarines. As the first and solely OCCP-certified farm, her plan includes investing in their farm production toward a more sustainable agricultural option for the community.

According to Ms. Baluzo, she did not expect to win because being part of YABONG is already a blessing. "It is not enough just to be successful; you must be relevant," she added.

Mr. Mark Lee Babaran, member of M2C Urban Farm and Move to Change Foundation, is the second placer where he also bagged the seed money prize. He expressed his vision of providing more scholarships to the children of farmers and fisherfolk hailing from all areas of the Philippines through the promotion and expansion of urban agriculture. In his speech, he dedicated the award to all foundation scholars, "These are all for the students of the foundation," he said.

Ilocano businesswoman Ms. Rochelle Lafrades left a mark through her "inartem" or pickled vegetables, showcasing to the judges her interest in marketing an Ilocano style of preserving fruits and vegetables. In her speech, she encouraged everyone to help cultivate agriculture and stated, "Pagyabungin natin ang agrikultura!" (Let us nurture agriculture!) She also promised, "This will be the start of the harvest of the world."

Mr. Christian Paolo Magsino during his BIP presentation. He attended the session via online.Mr. Christian Paolo Magsino during his BIP presentation. He attended the session via online.

Christian Paolo Magsino, an heir to a 61-year-old farm, presented how he improved his grandfather's business by adding livestock production through free-range chicken rearing and vegetable growing, including hydroponics production.

The final awardee is Roberto Diala, the Luntiang Bukid owner, who proposed farm-ready seedlings ensuring a higher germination rate for farmers. He believed that "It's not about cultivating seeds only, it's about cultivating a community." He encouraged everyone on the importance of seedlings and growth, stating, "Maging mayabong ng katulad ng matabang buto." (Be abundant like the like fruitful seed.)

Aside from the five awardees, Ms. Genivie Marqueses, a passionate agricultural farm leader from Quezon, was also presented with a special award. Her dedication to engaging the youth in farming activities within their community has paved the way for a sustainable livelihood program. Despite facing eviction from the current land being cultivated, it did not faze her to pitch her plan in hopes of being granted seed money that could help her organization.

Ms. Marqueses joined the event via Zoom as she was attending the transfer of their farming site. She was present during the 1st face-to-face session at East-West Seed Philippines in Bulacan.Ms. Marqueses joined the event via Zoom as she was attending the transfer of their farming site. She was present during the 1st face-to-face session at East-West Seed Philippines in Bulacan.

This award grants Ms. Marqueses and her group a one-year supply of seed products from East-West Seed Company.

Ms. Lichelle Carlos, SEARCA EIGD program specialist, closed the program by congratulating all the participants on their three-month-long participation in the program until the very last day and bid farewell to everyone by stating, "Great things cannot be achieved single-handedly; it takes a village."

Before bidding goodbye, the participants also had the opportunity to visit a nearby vegetable farm using hydroponics technology operated by PARJV GroSolutions to understand new business opportunities and models for growth.

According to the winners, YABONG is a transformative experience that improved their agricultural and entrepreneurship skills and enhanced their perspective toward a more sustainable agricultural system.

Young Agripreneurs Building Opportunities, Nurturing Growth (YABONG) Bootcamp is a three-month training program organized by the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), in collaboration with East-West Seed Company to nurture and support young entrepreneurs in their agricultural businesses.