Mhera Tabañag, 33, is one among the more than 300,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who lost their jobs across the globe since the pandemic struck.
Currently staying in her cousin’s accommodation in Sharjah, Mhera was forced to look for an alternative source of income when she was laid off last March.
She stays in the UAE even after this as she remains hopeful that there will come a good opportunity for her.
Unexpectedly, that retrenchment also gave her a brainwave and an idea quickly ensued.
She discovered that the combination of social media and agriculture is a perfect match for her new venture.
The Filipina has no land to till. So, how did she do it?
“Noong una nakakakita lang ako ng mga Pinoy na nagtitinda sa online marketplace ng kung anu-ano. Then, nung nagdeclare ng enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), ang balita ko sa mga kamag-anak ko sa Cebu, maraming ‘di masyadong makalabas para makabili ng pagkain,” she said.
“Sumagi agad sa isip ko na bakit ‘di ko itry na magsupply ng mga gulay at prutas ng mga farmers around Toledo, Cebu. ‘Yung ang hometown namin. Sabi ko, tutal meron akong kilala na may sasakyan na pwedeng gamitin sa pagtransport ng essential goods,” she added.
Within the duration of ECQ, only one member of the household can step out to buy food and other essentials as directed by local government units (LGUs). Most of the agricultural activities in the country were also affected as lockdown brings the transportation sector to a standstill.
By leveraging the number of her online connections on social media, she started posting on Facebook Marketplace food products—mostly fruits and vegetables. Later on, she added fresh seafood as part of her deliveries.
From this, she gathered some regular customers including barangays, local market sellers and individuals, as well as organizations who help pandemic-hit areas thru relief goods.
That’s how she started to reap the success of venturing into agriculture while also helping their local farmers in Toledo, Cebu to sell their crops at a competitive price.
When asked about how much she earns on a weekly basis, “’Nung height of COVID-19, malaki. Hindi ko inaasahan na kaya ko palang kumita ng P10,000 per week. Pero sa 1 ton ‘yun ng gulay at prutas. Syempre wala pa doon ang bayad sa tao at sasakyan. Pero somehow, nakatulong ‘yung kita ko para makasurvive ako sa pang-araw-araw kong pangangailangan dito sa UAE habang wala akong trabaho.”
“Ngayong medyo nagbalik na sa normal, in a month nasa P15,000 to 20,000 ang gross pero not bad na ‘yun di ba? Labas na dun lahat,” she added.
What’s good about this business is that she is also able to help her brothers and cousins back home to earn money.
“Sila-sila ‘yung kumukuha dun sa mga farmer, so may kita din sila araw-araw na hindi ko na kailangan pa silang padalhan o isipin,” she shared.
However, running this business also entails some sacrifices. As the UAE time is four years behind the Philippines’, she has to wake up at least 1 a.m. everyday to facilitate the delivery and transactions of goods.
“‘Yun lang yung malaking sacrifice. Parang nagbaliktad ang oras ko ngayon. Pero fulfilling naman sya,” Mhera told TFT.
Last March to April, as many as 245 LGUs purchased P1.58 billion worth of farmers’ yield, according to Department of Agriculture Secretary William Dar.
In a virtual conference last June 17, entitled “Kabayan, May Kabuhayan sa Kabukiran!”, Secretary Dar urged OFWs to venture in agriculture, fishery, and agribusiness enterprises should they decide to return home or invest on behalf of their families.
“With the slowdown in the global economy due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) forecasts that by December 2021, at least one million OFWs will be displaced and will be forced to return home and try their luck here,” said Dar.
He also presented a number of programs that can support agribusiness ventures of returning OFWs. Among these are loan programs implemented by the DA through its Agricultural Credit and Policy Council (ACPC), such as the following:
- Expanded SURE-Aid and Recovery Project — for micro and small enterprises, and for marginalized, small farmers and fishers;
- Agri-Negosyo (ANYO) — for micro and small enterprises; and
- Kapital Access for Young Agripreneurs (KAYA) — for start-up or existing agri-based projects.
“We wanted these programs properly in place so that we can lure our OFW-returnees to invest in the country and contribute to the growth of the sector,” the agriculture secretary said during the ‘webinar,’ organized by DA Agri Attachè to the USA and the Americas Dr. Josyline Chio Javelosa.