A portait of JIDA Aqua Resources's owner, Ms. Jilna Hiponia

Fishing is a tough enterprise. It’s an industry founded on the physical strength and courage of fishermen. But as Jilna Hiponia has proven, sometimes, it’s not so much the brawn as it is the brains that can enable success. Her business, JIDA Aqua Resources, was the result of a series of inspired decisions—her ideas to improve not only products but the local fisherfolk’s lives as well.

Jilna worked for a Chinese-Japanese aquamarine trading company for eight years when she had a bright idea: to venture on her own into the buying and selling of bangus or milkfish. This proved to be a wise decision as she eventually ended up acquiring her own fishpond.

Following this success, she had another stroke of genius. Having to adapt to the changing demands of customers, Jilna started selling frozen seafood for local sale and export. Through it all, she was driven by a purpose—to help local fisherfolk whose livelihood is innately difficult and uncertain. It’s why Jilna would source her seafood from local fishponds in Butuan City and the nearby Municipality of Magallanes in Agusan del Norte.

As with any business, she faced challenges. For one, fisherfolk has the tendency to overcultivate milkfish leading to smaller fish harvest, which is harder to sell. Jilna also faced the challenge of learning the business along the way, making do with her present stock knowledge. It was at this point that she decided that it was time to ask for help.

Jilna reached out to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and its export promotions arm, the Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions, for assistance. DTI helped her with elevating the packaging quality and product labeling. Through participation in the Kapatid Mentor program, as well as in local and international trade fairs, Jilna’s business was really taken to the next level. She was even able to showcase her products at the International Food Exhibition Philippines.

It was in one of these food fairs that an unfortunate incident led to another brilliant idea. The fridge holding all of their seafood broke down resulting in product spoilage. Although the organizers who had provided the fridge still paid them in full, Jilna realized that there was one aspect of her products that she still needed to address— shelf life.

Some of JIDA's bottled Bangus products

This is when Jilna decided to start bottling harvested milkfish. This was a gamechanger. It not only extended the product shelf life but also reduced wasted harvest and generated additional income for her suppliers. Her bottled bangus in corn oil, which she sold in four variants of hot and spicy, tausi, tomato sauce, and chunky classic, became an instant hit.

Through it all, DTI continued to help. She continued benefiting from her participation in trade fairs—including the Chinese ASEAN Exposition 2018 in Nanning, China—as well as in the enhancement of the labels of her bottled bangus. She was also able to sell her products even before receiving the Food and Drug Administration and Halal certifications, thanks to DTI’s One Town, One Product Tindahang Pinoy program.

Jida's staff wearing complete safety unifrom while preparing the bottled Bangus products

It has been a long but exciting journey. For Jilna, it was not just about hard work but also about working smart. It wasn’t just about physical effort but also about mental fortitude— gathering as much knowledge and information to execute a business plan well. Jilna believes that women are blessed with the intellect to make work less difficult and success more reachable.♦

Date of Release: 10 September 2020