For years, Gerry Paglinawan thought that being an OFW would improve his life. Little did he know that the fortune he dreamed of could be found in his hometown. After a series of trial and error, Gerry found the best formula that could save not only his business but also help improve the lives of the people around him.

Back to Basics

Gerry grew up in an “uma” or a farm. His mother taught him the basics of entrepreneurship, while his father taught him everything he knew about farming. At 11 years old, just when he was learning all there is about the world, his mother died. Since then, he has helped his father with his farming duties.

Life in the Philippines was tough, and the family struggled to get by. When Gerry was 18, he left home to seek for a better life. He found work in a multinational company as a furniture designer in Vietnam. He was able to practice his gift in arts and earned well from it.

But he knew that being an OFW was not enough. He was determined to make a new life for himself at home, so he eventually saved enough money to start his own business. At 46 years old, Gerry gave up his lucrative salary and went back to the Philippines.

Since he was already familiar with farming, he decided to start a farm in Zamboanga del Sur. Combining the entrepreneurial and farming skills he learned from his parents, Gerry started the Paglinawan Organic Eco Farm.

It was a challenging start. A lot of relatives, friends, and colleagues said Gerry was impoverished as he was back to tilling the land. But Gerry always kept a positive mindset and stayed true to his vision.

At first, the farm only produced organic rice. In 2013, when Gerry got sick, he decided to drink tea made of crushed turmeric that he got from his farm. He felt better in just a matter of hours, so he made more of the same product in powder form.

This made him realize the potential of selling turmeric products on his eco farm. Using the maxim “health is wealth” as his guide, Gerry launched his own line of turmeric-based products.

Together with his family, they tried to encourage fellow OFWs to save and invest not just in any regular business, but in agribusiness. They utilized the theme “Balik Pinas, Balik Uma.”

Gerry’s efforts did not go unnoticed. In fact, his family was recognized as the Special Awardee for Outstanding Achievement in Entrepreneurship by no less than President Rodrigo Roa Duterte during the 2017 Model OFW Family of the Year Awards (MOFYA).

However, profit didn’t come easily as expected. Since there are already many turmeric products on the market, Gerry found it hard to sell his turmeric product. He knew that standing out was key to getting noticed, so to differentiate their product and build a reputation, they established their own brand. That was when Agriko Multi-Trade & Enterprises Corp was born. Agriko is short for Agriculture Keeps Organic

To create a unique product line, Gerry experimented with different ingredients. After years of trial and error, they came up with 5N1 — a health product that is a combination of turmeric, ginger, soursop, moringa, and lemongrass.

DTI Helping with Gerry’s Agribusiness Growth

Even though Gerry had some training in entrepreneurship through his mother, he felt it wasn’t enough to get his agribusiness to succeed. So, he sought the Department of Trade and Industry’s help by taking the Kapatid Mentor ME Program.

The Kapatid Mentor ME Program is an initiative that provides mentorship and training to aspiring entrepreneurs. The program aims to help micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) grow their businesses by providing them with access to mentors, resources, and training. Through the program, Gerry learned how to develop a business plan and improve his products and services.

He also trained in Kapatid Agri Mentor ME Program, a training program for aspiring and existing farmers. The program provides technical assistance in production, post-harvest, and business management. With the program’s help, Gerry improved his eco farm’s production and developed a sustainable business model.

Other DTI programs he participated in include One Town, One Product (OTOP) webinars, International Food Expo (IFEX), FoodConnect, Zamboanga Peninsula Exposition (ZAMPEX), Innovation Business Recovery, and several other webinars.

The Pandemic Pushes and Pulls on Agriko

When the pandemic first hit, the world scrambled to understand what was happening and how it would affect lives and businesses. As people began to stock up on essentials,

Agriko found itself in the advantage by being able to meet high demand for items that help alleviate COVID symptoms and boost immunity.

The local government allowed him to continue his business operations despite quarantine measures. However, they had to follow strict workplace protocols set by Department of Labor and Employment and DTI, and full-time employees were required to come in rotating shifts.

Just when they thought life couldn’t get any sweeter with the high demand for their products, another complication arose. The banks that loaned him money to acquire lands were not keen on extending the payment deadline, even during the pandemic. Thus, the properties were foreclosed.

On top of that, the dealers selling the 5N1 product have bailed on payments, stating the negative effects of the pandemic on their personal lives. This meant cash flow issues.

But Gerry didn’t give up. When he felt that all was lost, he turned to DTI for help. The agency then promptly offered financial assistance to help his agribusiness recover.

Demand for their products rose and fell, making forecasting and inventory pretty tough. They adapted by focusing on fast- selling products and pausing the production of items that were not as saleable.

Despite these obstacles, Gerry was still able to adapt and even thrive, thanks to their online presence. The key has been to focus on their marketing strategy and to show consumers different ways of using their products.

Towards a Bountiful Future

Since asking for DTI’s help, Gerry has widened his product selection. Now, Agriko is selling 5N1 Turmeric Powder, Turmeric Powder, Ginger Powder, Roasted Black Rice with Turmeric Blend, Pure 5N1 Powder Shot, and Organically Grown Rice.

“There are a lot of factors that are uncertain, but we would like to believe that the worst has passed, and there’s nowhere else to go but forward,” Gerry said.

Through the Paglinawan Organic Eco Farm and the Agriko Multi- Trade & Enterprises Corp, Gerry plans to continue to innovate new products and create a Filipino brand that will be well-known globally. Right now, he employs 30 people and provides more job opportunities through his partnership with local farmers.

This former OFW’s work has shown that agriculture can be a powerful force for good, helping create jobs and alleviate poverty. Thanks to Gerry Paglinawan, more and more people are beginning to see the potential of agriculture as a force for inclusive growth and development.

Balik uma? We definitely agree. ♦