Randy and Raissa Vargas, co-owners of Elisha Bay Dagupan Bangus and Seafoods, a small fish and seafood processing business, were able to avail of the Agricultural Credit Policy Council’s Agri-Negosyo (ANYO) loan program to expand and enhance the operations of their MSE despite the challenges of the pandemic.
Elisha Bay started in 2017, when the couple encountered various backyard bangus processing projects and found high potential in the market, especially exporting to Manila. Since they were both graduates of fishery courses, Randy and Raissa decided to start their own bangus and seafood processing business. From a micro business of 4 workers back in 2017, Elisha Bay is now DTI-registered, FDA and US-FDA approved, distributing their gourmet bangus and seafood to supermarkets in Metro Manila, with resellers in areas such as the Cordillera, Cagayan, Surigao Del Norte, Davao, Cebu, and Palawan, and recently exporting to the United States.
Aside from growing their business, the couple also wanted to incorporate their advocacy of helping persons with disability (PWDs) and underprivileged women in the community. With the help of the Office of the City Agriculturist and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), they were able to train PWDs and hire them as workers.
With the pandemic, Randy and Raissa had to shut down their operations during the first lockdown. When restrictions were lowered, they were able to sustain their operations due to a rise in people interested in reselling their products as their sideline business. “Marami nawalan ng trabaho kaya nag-venture sila sa reselling; nakita nila yung potential ng products. Satisfied resellers naman sila—una natitikman naman nila yung produkto bago nila ibenta at masaya naman silang ibenta dahil masarap nga raw,” says Randy. Though with the unpredictability of conditions, this wasn’t enough for their business to thrive. “Eventually nung bumalik sila sa mga trabaho nag open-up ulit yung mga negosyo bumagsak ulit sales namin.”
Another challenge they had was navigating the online market, which was growing due to consumers being limited indoors. “Karamihan naging online, pero kaming mag-asawa, hindi ganun ka-techy kaya doon kami medyo nahirapan.”
While facing these challenges, Randy and Raissa heard about the DA-ACPC’s Agri-Negosyo Loan Program from a friend, who encouraged them to apply to avail of additional capital for their business. “Medyo nahirapan pa nga siyang i-convince kami kasi kaming mag-asawa hangga’t maari ayaw namin ng umuutang, then we found out na interest free pala siya,” says Randy. “Aside from zero interest, walang collateral tapos flexible ang repayment scheme,” adds Raissa. “As a business owner, mapa-plano mo yung payment mo.”
While applying for the loan, Randy and Raissa were assisted by the ACPC in preparing their business plan and other requirements. “Kung sino man nagbabalak na mag-apply sa ACPC loan, I will encourage them to go for it kasi ang laki ng benefits. Itong ACPC talagang tutulungan ka. Andyan sila para tulungan ka talaga—hindi para kumita sayo.”
With their zero-interest loan, they were able to buy equipment to expand their operations, including additional vacuum sealer and blast freezer for more efficient preservation of products, and stainless steel tables to improve sanitation. “Malaking bagay talaga at nakaksigurado ka na maayos yung produkto mong lalabas,” says Randy. Raissa adds, “Napagtayo pa kami ng maliit na fish pen. Ngayon po meron kaming nasa pen na 12,000 bangus na ready for harvest next month at fingerlings na magagamit namin after 60 days naman.”
Randy and Raissa look forward to establishing a small farm for their ingredients to become more self-sufficient, expanding their business to employ more people, and exporting their products to reach more customers in the Philippines and abroad. They also want to expand their knowledge on online selling for more efficient sales.
“For those who want to go into business, I encourage them to go into agri o fisheries dahil napakaimportante ng food security,” explains Randy. “Walang tao na hindi kumakain kaya maganda talaga. Kailangan lang mag-comply ka sa food safety, pero andyan ang mga government agencies at private agencies para tulungan tayo na maassure yung mga quality ng mga product natin.”
Randy added that those who are still considering what commodity to venture in should consider the available resources in their area and the market. He also advised those not to be discouraged with the challenges that come with establishing a business, and to keep their vision in mind.
“Proud ako sa agribusiness namin dahil nakapag-provide kami ng trabaho hindi lang sa mga empleyado namin kung hindi dun sa mga fish farmers dun sa city. Nakakatulong tayo sa fish farmers, nakakatulong tayo dun sa mga consolidators at sa consignation at nakakatulong din tayo dun sa direct employees natin. Siyempre proud din kami na nagamit namin ang resources ng Dagupan bilang bangus capital,” says Raissa. Elisha Bay and other small agribusinesses not only help in achieving food security, but also boost the livelihood of small fish farmers and provide jobs for the underprivileged in their community. Thus, agribusinesses serve not only as a means for profit, but a way to empower small farmers and fisherfolk for a prosperous agriculture sector benefitting all.