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By: Krizzia Mei C. Esperanza

On April 13, 2021, the Department of Science and Technology – CALABARZON (DOST-CALABARZON) and the Cooperative Development Authority – Region 4A (CDA-R4A), as lead organizers, together with the other agency-members of the CALABARZON Sub-Task Group on Agribusiness (STGA), held the Regional Launching of the “Agri-Negosyo Para sa OFWs” in CALABARZON via Zoom and Facebook Live. Attended by almost 300 participants from different parts of the world, the event introduced agriculture or agribusiness-related programs and services for OFWs and their families in the region.

Agri-Negosyo Para sa OFWs and other DTI programs

Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Usec. Rafaelita M. Aldaba, representing the DTI as Co-Chair of the National STGA, discussed DTI innovations and opportunities for OFWs, including the Agri-Negosyo program. The creation of the STGA, with the Department of Agriculture and the DTI as co-chairs, and the CDA, Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), DOST, National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), Overseas Workers Welfare Association (OWWA), and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) as member agencies, is one of the many initiatives of the government to address unemployment, especially among OFWs since the onset of the pandemic.

DTI Usec. Rafaelita M. Aldaba presents Innovations and Opportunities in Agribusiness, April 13, 2021.

The Agri-Negosyo, an STGA program, serves as an avenue “to align and harmonize efforts of government agencies” in assisting OFWs secure an alternative source of livelihood: agribusiness. “[Ang] isang mahalagang function po [ng Agri-Negosyo] ay pagdugtong-dugtungin ang mga programa—a convergence of programs—ng iba’t ibang ahensya,” Usec. Aldaba said. These services and programs are contained in the Agribusiness Portfolio, easily accessible online at http://innovate.dti.gov.ph/programs/agri-negosyo-para-sa-ofws.

Usec. Aldaba presented several DTI programs, including the COVID-19 Assistance to Restart Enterprises (CARES) Program, an Enterprise Rehabilitation Financing (ERF) facility in support of MSMEs, and Rural Agro-Enterprise Partnership for Development and Growth (RAPiD Growth) Project, which links farmers to markets. “Despite the COVID-19 challenges, there are agricultural opportunities to expand production through innovation and use of new technologies,” she continued. The DTI, for example, has the eKadiwa, GoLokal, and “One Town, One Product” (OTOP), which are online marketing and trading platforms.

Agribusiness-related services of CALABARZON government offices for OFWs

Six (6) offices in CALABARZON, through their respective representatives, introduced their programs for OFWs interested to engage or are engaged in agribusiness: the DA Regional Field Office IV-A, DTI 4A Regional Office, CDA-R4A (CALABARZON), DOST-CALABARZON, TESDA-Cavite, and OWWA Regional Welfare Office IV-A.

Ms. Vilma M. Dimaculangan, OIC – Regional Executive Director of the DA-RFO IV-A, laid down programs for OFWs in-line with their vision of “a food secure and resilient Philippines with empowered and prosperous farmers and fisherfolk.” For 2021, the DA-RFO IV-A plans to conduct livelihood trainings on hybrid rice and white glutinous corn production, native chicken and duck production, among others. Hybrid and certified rice seeds, hybrid white glutinous corn seeds, mushroom starter kits, as well as fertilizers, are available for distribution to farms in CALABARZON. Through DA’s Agribusiness and Marketing Assistance Division (AMAD), capital grants, market matching activities, and enterprise development trainings are offered for OFWs engaged in agribusiness. Further, under its Agri-Fishery Credit Programs, OFWs may also borrow a working capital for their agri-fishery-based business from the DA. (For more information on DA’s loan programs, visit https://acpc.gov.ph.)

For the DTI 4A Regional Office, Assistant Regional Director Marissa C. Argente presented programs on their priority industries: processed cacao, coffee, bamboo, coconut, fruits and nuts, and wearables from indigenous materials. The DTI Negosyo Center in CALABARZON offers business advisory, information and advocacy, and facilitates business registration. More notably, under its Helping the Economy Recover thru OFW Enterprise Start-Ups (HEROES) Program, repatriated OFWs due to the pandemic may borrow up to Php 100,000 from the DTI, to be used as working capital in starting and sustaining a business. (Visit https://sbgfc.org.ph for more information.)

Through short video presentations, Dir. Salvador V. Valeroso of the CDA R4A, and Provincial Director Ben Hur B. Baniqued of the TESDA-Cavite introduced their respective services. OFWs may benefit from organizing themselves into a cooperative by registering online via https://cda.gov.ph. Accredited cooperatives may avail of CDA facilities, including legal services and development trainings. On the other hand, TESDA launched its flagship program, TESDA Abot Lahat ng OFWs, focused on serving returning OFWs and their dependents through scholarship and retooling. Agribusiness-related technical vocational courses offered by the agency includes aquaponics for urban agriculture and organic agriculture. To avail of these services, OFWs may register online at https://www.e-tesda.gov.ph.

From left to right: Ms. Emelita P. Bagsit, OIC – Regional Director of the DOST-CALABARZON discusses the DOST Innovations for Filipinos Working Distantly from the Philippines (iFWD PH); Ms. Dara Jannes C. Obmerga of the DTI 4A Regional Office (together with Mr. Romel Mabilangan of the CDA R4A) facilitates the online launching, April 13, 2021.

Ms. Emelita P. Bagsit, OIC – Regional Director of the DOST-CALABARZON, outlined its new program for OFWs: Innovations for Filipinos Working Distantly from the Philippines (iFWD PH) Program. “Launched in 2020, the program addresses the unprecedented challenges brought about by the pandemic affecting our OFWs,” Ms. Bagsit explained. Under the Capability Building Phase of the program, interested and driven OFWs will be guided, step-by-step, on how to establish and manage their own technology-based business. Under the Innovation Funding Phase, OFWs may receive Innovation Fund (iFund) Support of up to Php 250,000 to cover product development, market and laboratory testing, packaging and labeling, equipment acquisition, and other similar business costs. OFWs may apply for the pioneer batch of the iFWD PH at https://ifwdph.dost.gov.ph.

Representing the OWWA, Ms. Verusckha Ardel Gonzales Maling, its designated focal person for the National Reintegration Center for OFWs (NRCO), delivered a brief overview of the OWWA Livelihood Programs for OFWs: the Enterprise Development Loan Program, and the “Balik Pinas! Balik Hanapbuhay!” Program. The former is a loan facility of up to Php 2 million for individual borrowers or Php 5 million for group borrowers, with only a 7.5% per annum interest rate for the entire duration of the loan, available as working capital or fixed asset acquisition fund. The latter is a grant of up to Php 20,000 as livelihood support for returning OFWs, distressed or displaced due to the pandemic. The OWWA Tulong Pangkabuhayan sa Pag-Unlad ng Samahang OFWs (Tulong PUSO) is likewise an available livelihood grant opportunity to OFW groups.

Agri-Negosyo onwards

With around 130 Facebook Live viewers, and 160 Zoom participants, the launching event achieved its goal to expand the reach of available agribusiness-related services and facilities to more OFWs in and from the CALABARZON. One participant commented, “Kudos to the speakers and facilitators, especially to the government offices willing to help our kababayans.” The CALABARZON STGA member agencies may be contacted for inquiries on how to apply for and avail of the programs presented through their respective Facebook pages.

Watch the replay of the “CALABARZON Regional Launch of the Agri-Negosyo Para sa OFWs” here: https://www.facebook.com/dostcalabarzon/videos/469453294179471