Folks from Abra need not look far to search for materials for their business. Most of them can simply check out what’s in their backyard.
“We have plenty of bamboos in our backyard,” says Carlo Balneg, an entrepreneur from Bumagcat, Tayum, Abra. Balneg shares that he has been trained from childhood to work on various crafts out of bamboo. “My father used to own this shop,” he adds, referring to the shop that now bears his name, with a sizeable 20 x 30 production area for placemats and 10×10 for other products.
The shop started as a decrepit tent with crude and definitely outdated tools. Balneg was able to improve production by undergoing trainings and doing some research on design trends. Radical changes came when his application to the Department of Science and Technology’s Small and Medium Enterprises Technology Upgrading Program (DOST-SETUP) was approved, following his father’s hand-over of the shop to him. Through a loan worth P375,000 granted last year, Balneg was able to buy various machines and tools to make his business flourish like the bamboos in his backyard.
From manual procedures, his jump into technology has made bamboocrafting much easier. Technology enabled him to make the bamboos in equal length, width, and thickness – with a smooth finished surface – easier, faster and better.
“It’s good that I previously trained in assembling and operating machines, even in mixing paint,” he tells. “Through SETUP’s support, I was able to put all my trainings in practice.” Some of the new equipment he acquired through SETUP include three-in-one machine (circular saw, jointer and thicknesser), tables saw, bench drill, miter saw, and many others. Some were fabricated to suit his requirements.
During this visit, Balneg’s 140 workers were all busy working to meet their target of 36,000 pieces of placemats ordered by a foreign-based client. His other bamboo products – such as folding tables, bamboo trays, and others – also have good market share.
At 30, Balneg bagged the 2009 Sipag at Tyaga Award (provincial level) and was finalist in the One Town, One Product national level. He was also honored as one of the two Most Inspiring CAR Micro Entrepreneurs at the Teen Negosyo Edition III in Baguio City in 2008.
Balneg is thankful that bamboos are abundant in Abra, which is good for his business. He is aware that depleting bamboos will not only be bad for his business but also for the environment. Thus, as his way of ensuring the continuous supply of raw materials, he encourages his suppliers of raw materials to plant or replenish their bamboo plantations.
Vegetables in noodles
When he saw on TV about a new product called squash canton, Arturo Talledo of Mudiit, Dolores, Abra could not contain his excitement. “There are plenty of squash in Abra, so I know I would not run out of ingredients,” he gushes.
He trained under DOST’s Food and Nutrition Research Institute to learn the basics of vegetable noodle production. Finally, he added squash and malunggay noodles to his main product, flour-based miki. “It was difficult at the start because my workers used manual procedures,” he admits. But since squash and malunggay were aplenty in Abra, he went on with production.
Informed by FNRI of the SETUP program, he immediately applied, knowing that technology will help improve his production.
Soon he was awarded with a P200,000 loan from SETUP which he used to buy equipment such as noodle machine, dough mixer, and dryer. The dough mixer enabled Talledo’s workers to efficiently and quickly knead large quantities of dough while the noodle machine cut the kneaded flour into noodle strands of equal size faster than any human can. The dryer enabled Talledo to dry up the noodles, rain or shine, and have them ready for packing in a few hours.
“Thanks to technology, both my production and income doubled,” he shares. On regular days, Talledo’s Miki Commercial produces 175 kilos of noodles. He now has six full-time workers plus some on-call helpers. Moreover, his previously backyard business now has a building of its own.
FNRI also helped Talledo in designing his packaging, using materials that give enough protection to his noodles and visual design that attract buyers. He also gets regular technical advice from DOST.
“I am going into camote noodle production soon,” he revealed as he glimpsed at an area in his backyard which, expectedly, was teeming with lush, leafy camote.
Sugarcane’s sweet-sour prospects
Lorma Azurin of Agtangao, Abra first thought that vinegar would bring her family the extra income it needs out of the sugarcane, planted as an alternate crop, in her backyard. But DOST-Abra’s Menandro Buenafe and Alice Balacua had other ideas: Why not expand her product into basi, a local wine made of sugarcane, and muscovado?
Azurin realized that indeed there was more to sugarcane than vinegar. Through DOST’s Grant-In-Aid, she was able to attend trainings to help her in producing high-quality basi and muscovado. DOST also helped her firm A&C Enterprises in the initial printing of packaging for the sugarcaneproducts, as well as in installing a rice hull furnace for muscovado production.
Soon the sweet basi and muscovado, as well as the sour vinegar, gained followings and market. A&C Enterprises sugarcane products soon became a familiar sight in Bangued market.
“One thing about our products,” Azurin pitched, “is that they are 100 percent organic. No chemical fertilizer was applied.”
Projects in the pipeline
For 2010, DOST-Abra has lined up 10 projects for SETUP funding and nine for GIA funding, according to Buenafe, Provincial Science and Technology Director for Abra. And yes, most of the firms used materials and crops that are endemic to Abra.