Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards winner bets – and ”yields’ success – on organic farming

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As an employee in a Metro Manila office for eight years, Renato Mercado found that what he earned was hardly enough to support a family that included three kids, and pay the bills especially since the cost of living kept going up.

Mercado decided to return to his native Tanauan City in Batangas and try to make something profitable out of his 28-hectare farm. While many farmers were using chemicals to shorten the period between planting and harvest and increase yields, Mercado decided to become an organic farmer plus to further champion natural farming, he also became a wholesaler of organic fertilizer. The latter was quite a bold move as most farmers in his community had become used to agricultural chemicals.

What made it even more challenging was that he was not the first as there were already a few suppliers of organic fertilizer in the community. However, Mercado believed he could come up with a better product and provide better service.

With a P5,000 loan from Bangko Kabayan, Mercado bought chicken manure and developed an organic fertilizer for his own farm, which became a showcase of what natural farm input could do. His plants – corn, tomatoes and pechay tagalog – were healthier and higher-yielding than those of farmers who were using chemicals.

Renato’s advocacy on organic farming has made Brgy. Sulpoc in Tanauan City a pioneer of the practice.

Mercado is grateful he found out about Bangko Kabayan’s microfinance loan program, as it enabled him to borrow the initial capital for his enterprise with a low interest.

As Mercado tried to sell his organic fertilizer, his farm became the most effective advertisement of the merits of his product. “When they (other farmers in his community, Barangay Sulpoc in Tanauan) saw that the yield was better, (they decided to shift) to organic fertilizer,” he said. As more people patronized his product, use of synthetic agricultural inputs dropped. Other farmers discovered what Mercado had learned–organic fertilizer made “the crops grow faster and increased the yield.”

Mercado’s efforts not only made Sulpoc a shining example of the merits of organic agriculture but they also earned for him the Special Award for Agri Micro-Business, one of the categories of the annual Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards (CMA).

The 14-year-old CMA, a partnership among Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, Citi Philippines and Microfinance Council of the Philippines, Inc., is a nationwide search for the most outstanding micro business owners. It recognizes outstanding entrepreneurs with assets of P3 million or less, who have achieved remarkable growth as indicated by employment generation, profits and sales turnover, and have contributed to community development. Winning entrepreneurs should also have maintained healthy repayment records on loans even as they build their savings.

Funded by Citi Foundation, CMA was launched in 2002 to celebrate Citi’s 100th year in the Philippines and in Asia. The award has since recognized more than 100 winners across the country.

While other entrepreneurs would take advantage of the growing demand for his product to increase his profit, Mercado, being himself a farmer, makes his organic fertilizer affordable to his farmer-clients. He even devises payment schemes so his customers would not find the purchase of his fertilizer a financial burden.

Demand for his fertilizer is increasing, as farmers in other parts of Batangas who have heard of the product have also started to buy the fertilizer.

Renato has turned his 28-hectare farm into a showcase of healthier corn, tomatoes and pechay tagalog and increased yields using organic fertilizer.

Mercado continues to rely on Bangko Kabayan to provide him the financial support he needs to expand his operation to meet the growing demand. He recently obtained an P80,000 loan for the expansion of his business.

A brother helps Mercado with the delivery. During the peak season, Mercado employs up to 20 workers, mostly people in his community, to produce 600 sacks of fertilizer a day. On a slow day, he only needs five workers. He has 38 farm workers. Mercado shares with his workers increases in sales by giving bonuses.

He has bought a tractor to spread chicken manure on his farm and a truck for delivery. During the dry season, he delivers three truckloads of fertilizer, with 200 sacks per truckload. On rainy days, orders decrease and he delivers only one truckload. He puts 60 percent of his weekly income into the business, while the remaining 40 covers household expenses and saving.

From his earning, Mercado was able to build a home for his family and another one for his mother.

He now plans to introduce his product to other provinces, as well as go into the trucking business. But Mercado has yet to get all the necessary government permits to establish the credentials of his enterprise. He only has a barangay permit so far, but is in the process of applying for registration with the Bureau of Internal Revenue.

He is optimistic he will achieve his goals. “We need to work hard and persevere to achieve what we want in life,” he says.

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