Sagada young agripreneur boosts local rabbit production, empowers co-youth in agriculture
Sagada municipality in Mountain Province is known for its picturesque and natural tourist destinations, authentic delicacies and handicrafts, and locally-grown agricultural products, among other things, that have found their way into wider markets.
More than that, new agricultural opportunities continue to boom in this laid-back agricultural town, providing an additional source of income for the community.
At barangay Antadao in Sagada, Mountain Province, 22-year-old Ray Mark Manawas has established an integrated farm. This serves as a window to introduce and showcase new agricultural opportunities that can be done in the locality.
Dubbed “Kiltepan Integrated Farm,” his farm kicked off in 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Kiltepan stands for the different barangays in Eastern Sagada, namely Kilong, Tetep-an, and Antadao. The farm raises poultry and fish like duck, turkey, catfish, and tilapia, respectively, and industrial crops like coffee. To add, he introduced rabbit raising, a thriving industry after it was promoted in the Cordillera region as an alternative source of meat.
Young agripreneur Ray Mark’s desire to promote other agricultural opportunities started when he was young. He wanted to create a better perspective and opportunities in agriculture that are not focused on planting crops alone. With this, he also desired to venture into innovative agricultural enterprises such as rabbit raising.
Originally, he focused on rabbit production, but with the growing challenge for locally-available and cheap rabbit feeds, he took the risk to venture into the production of rabbit feeds. This endeavor later created a bigger impact on his personal growth and achievements.
“Ang problema dito sa amin is ung kakulangan ng supply ng rabbit feeds. Liban sa mahal ung feeds, hindi consistent ung supply which affects the performance or growth ng mga rabbit. Kaya naisipan ko na why not gumawa nalang nang sariling atin [feeds] kesa kumuha pa sa ibang lugar,” Ray Mark shared.
Accordingly, commercial rabbit feeds are usually bought in from other areas like Bontoc, Mountain Province, and Baguio City. Others are sourced from Bulacan and Tarlac.
Ray Mark and his friends worked on formulating rabbit feeds in pellet form. They worked for at least 18 days through trial and error until they finally came up with the most suitable pellets that met the standard requirements for rabbit feeds. The formulated feeds were analyzed with the help of the Department of Agriculture (DA)-CAR’s Feed Laboratory. This, for Ray Mark, is his most rewarding experience.
Feed production is done twice a month, and with a group of at least five workers, they produce 2,700 kilograms of feeds per month. These are packed in 5 and 25 kilos per pack to accommodate big and small rabbit raisers.
They sell the rabbit feeds for P39 per kilo. Ray Mark’s rabbit feeds are cheaper than the commercial rabbit feed, which costs P60.
His unique local business model has caught the interest of the Young Farmers Challenge (YFC) 2022 judges. This qualified him to become one of the winners both at the provincial and regional levels. The YFC is a DA-implemented program that encourages the younger generation to develop ventures in line with agricultural development and food production. As a winner, he received a financial grant of P50,000 and P100,000, respectively.
The cash grant was primarily used to procure materials to improve his business and farm as a whole. “Parang kumulang pa nga eh kaya ang ginawa ko, humiram ako sa pamilya ko para mas mapabuti ko pa ang aking business,” Ray Mark admitted.
Growing rabbits and producing local feeds
Ray Mark uses locally-available raw materials such as Napier grass, Tricanthera, and Azolla to produce feeds. Other raw materials are bought from other towns like Tabuk in Kalinga when the supply becomes scarce.
When he started his business on rabbit production, Ray Mark recalled that his first challenge was budget constraint. However, he was able to manage it through his family’s support. He borrowed P1,400 from his grandfather to buy a pair of rabbits of breeding age. After a month, the rabbit gave birth to six offspring. He sold the five offspring at P350 each and raised the remaining one.
This started his cycle of growing and selling rabbits with their community as his primary market. He uses his income to buy materials for rabbit housing as the number of animals continues to increase. At present, he has more or less 40 rabbit heads.
“Hindi ako nahihirapan as of now sa market dahil lahat ng produce namin ay nabibili kasi may organization kami ng rabbit raisers dito sa Mountain Province with the help of the Provincial Veterinary Office (PVO),” Ray Mark exclaimed.
The PVO is, accordingly, their number one buyer of rabbits. They also have retailers in other municipalities, namely Sabangan, Tadian, Bauko, and Bontoc. For Sagada, Ray Mark is the primary rabbit supplier.
He is thankful that his continuous participation in government trainings, usually provided by the DA-CAR and the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI), expanded his market after linking with potential or institutional buyers he met during said activities. His parents also support him by managing the farm when he is not around.
To sustain the availability of raw materials for feed production, Ray Mark also encouraged the farmers in their barangay to plant Napier grass which he bought afterward. His farm also generates local employment, particularly for the youth, most of whom are out-of-school youth. They are being hired to work on the farm, especially during feed production, making frames for rabbit housing, or when improvements require more personnel.
Despite not winning at the YFC national-level competition, Ray Mark is positive and committed to continuing his started business.
“Tutuloy padin kasi bago ko umpisahan ung business, may plano na talaga ako na sa future dapat nakapag establish na ako ng distribution outlets,” he said adding that not winning at the nationals is just one challenge. More than that, he is steadfast in his plan that by 2024, he would establish at least two market outlets, one in Banaue, Ifugao and another in Buguias, Benguet.
These places, accordingly, have more rabbit raisers but have limited access to locally-available feeds. Banaue and Buguias are about 4 to 5 hours away from Baguio City, where commercial rabbit feeds are usually marketed.
He encourages business starters or those still planning to venture into business to equip themselves with the appropriate knowledge to guide them.
“Wag tayong maniwala sa learn as you go, dapat improve as you go. Kasi kapag learn as you go, parang mahihirapan ka lang. Okay lang na kapos sa budget ‘wag lang sa knowledge. Take the risk, wag tayong matatakot. Kahit iba ka kung dun ka masaya, kung alam mong iyon ang magpapabago sa buhay mo, dun ka,” Ray Mark stated.
His integrated farm is under registration with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) with a new name of “Paingan Farms” to make it unique from the other farms and brands that have used Kiltepan in their trade names. His farm, particularly rabbit production, is also expected to become a learning site for agriculture (LSA) through the DA-ATI CAR. Through these initiatives, Ray Mark is hopeful he will be able to empower his co-youth in their community to better appreciate and support agriculture.
With this aspiration, Ray Mark also actively engages in barangay-based youth organizations. He is currently the President of the Antadao Young Farmers Organization under the 4H Club, organized in 2021, and an active Young Peoples Civic Organization member. **JBAgrifino and JBPeralta