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Treasures of Region 12: Boosting Soccsksargen’s economic potential through MSMEs

In a remarkable display of entrepreneurial zeal and collaboration, 54 micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSME), assisted by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) 12, collectively achieved an astounding revenue of over P46.68 million in just three days.

This financial feat came with the conduct of trade fairs as one of the highlights of “Treasures of Region 12: BLENDS Edition," which took place from September 29 to October 1, 2023, at the Veranza Mall in General Santos City.

Hundreds of MSME participants and product buyers flock to the grand opening of the three-day Treasures of Region 12: BLENDS Edition on September 29, 2023, at the Veranza Mall in General Santos City. The event culminated on October 1, with many buyers visiting product stalls to make various purchases. (Photo: PIA 12 - SarGen)

Empowering local enterprises through BLENDS

BLENDS, an acronym for "Boosting Local Economy by Nurturing in-Demand Specialties," serves as a product exhibition of various regional products that DTI 12 has been diligently supporting through brand development and marketing.

This year's Treasures of Region 12: BLENDS Edition showcased the region's four priority crops, such as coffee, cacao, coconut, and cardaba banana, which DTI supports through its Rural Agro-Enterprise Partnership for Inclusive Development (RAPID) Growth Project funded by the United Nations Fund for Agricultural Development, covering seven regions, including Soccsksargen, specifically Cotabato Province, Sultan Kudarat, and Sarangani.

DTI 12 Assistant Regional Director Rictoniel Reginio emphasized the government’s commitment to bolstering the marketing efforts of MSMEs through projects like BLENDS.

Reginio underscored the dynamics between support and promotion, anticipating that “these enterprises would also improve their operations,” ultimately contributing to their growth and stressing that DTI's mandate extends to assisting local enterprises to reach wider markets.

 “We know for a fact that RAPID, as a program that is funded by an international organization, should have its own package of assistance that is also aligned with our mandate,” Reginio said.

Meanwhile, Adrian Lariba, regional coordinator of the RAPID Growth Project, explained that the project, a five-year initiative spanning from 2020 to 2025, aims to enhance the value chain for priority crops, specifically cacao, coffee, coconut, and cardaba banana, with the latter in the form of processed fruits.

Following the success of the Kape Dose Festival in 2022, Treasures of Region 12: BLENDS Edition has been packaged as an upgraded three-day event featuring staple activities such as a trade fair and product showcase, learning sessions and conferences, coffee art competitions, and product tasting sessions.

Coffee is one of the many products displayed in the Treasures of Region 12: BLENDS Edition’s marketplaces at the Veranza Mall, General Santos City. Aside from coffee, other priority products that were easily sold included cacao (tablea), coconut sugar, banana chips, and many other processed fruits and nuts. (Photo: PIA 12 - SarGen)

Identifying marketplaces to support farmers

At the launch of BLENDS, hundreds of coffee, cacao, and processed fruits and nuts enthusiasts, along with some 50 institutional buyers, gathered at Veranza Mall on its opening day, September 29, until its closing day, October 1.

Their main goal was to establish connections with farmers and acquire high-quality goods at this grand product showcase.

Zaldy Boloron, Department of Agriculture 12 Regional Technical Director for Operations and Extension, underscored the significance of agriculture in the region's economy, stressing the need for dedication, hard work, and a right attitude among farmers.

“Kailangan maniwala tayo na kung mayroong masaganang agrikultura, uunlad ang ekonomiya. Kasi tayo ay agricultural country, agricultural region [We need to believe that if there is abundant agriculture, the economy will prosper. Because we are an agricultural country, an agricultural region],” Boloron said.

Philippine Coconut Authority 12 acting Regional Manager Emily Lorion also echoed the objective of the RAPID Project to showcase the potential of rural farmers and elevate their roles beyond mere production to entrepreneurship.

“Yung atin pong objective sa ating magsasaka noon ay production lamang. Sa panahon ngayon, farmer-businessman na. Hindi na natin sabihin sa kanila na itaas ang produksyon, but we are developing them na maging business entrepreneurs [Our objective for our farmers used to be only production. Nowadays, they are farmer-businessmen. We no longer tell them to increase production, but we are developing them to become business entrepreneurs],” Lorion said.

DTI 12, led by Regional Director Flora Gabunales (2nd from left), honors Sultan Kudarat prides Rey John Basco (2nd from right) and Rebecca Gacayan (middle), who won the AVPA Diplôme Gourmet Award in the categories Puissant Boisé and Rond Boisé, respectively, against 50 countries that competed in the world competition. They are also both coffee champions, securing top spots in the 2023 Philippine Coffee Quality Competition for the Robusta category. (Photo: PIA 12 - SarGen)

Recognizing the excellence of homegrown talents

Edwin dela Rosa from Magpet town, Cotabato Province, assumed the role of the new president, leading the oath-taking of the Regional Cacao Industry Council. Additionally, the Agency for the Valorization of Agricultural Products (AVPA) presented plaques to honor the best specialty coffee awardees, adding prestige to the event.

AVPA is a non-governmental, non-profit international organization that is predominantly composed of producers and coffee enthusiasts based in Paris, France.

DTI 12 proudly awarded the plaques to Sultan Kudarat prides, Kulaman Coffee (Rey John Basco and Rebecca Gacayan), and Kalamansig Coffee (Fernando Saycon, Rodello Calunsag, and Cris Cauguiran), who won the AVPA Diplôme Gourmet Award in the categories Puissant Boisé and Rond Boisé, respectively, against 50 countries that competed in the world competition.

DTI also honored Sultan Kudarat's own coffee champions, Rey John Basco and Robert James Gacayan, who secured national recognition by ranking in the Top 8 and Top 10, respectively, in the 2023 Philippine Coffee Quality Competition (PCQC) for the Robusta category.

Gacayan, in collaboration with the DTI 12 RAPID Growth Project, PHILIA, and The Coffee Heritage Project, urged her fellow coffee roasters to keep their eyes focused on quality coffee to sustain the entire specialty coffee sector's value chain.

“For the local traders and farmers, we should practice fair trade to promote better trading conditions and secure the rights of marginalized producers and workers,” Gacayan advised fellow coffee entrepreneurs.

DTI-Sarangani Provincial Director Ethel Laksmi Gumana lauded the awardees, asserting that Soccsksargen had earned a place "on the map of the best specialty coffees in the world."

STI College General Santos gets the overall champion accolade, having bagged the awards for best pastry, best cocktail, and best presentation during the Treasures of Region 12: BLENDS Edition held at Veranza Mall, General Santos City. (Photo: STI College General Santos)

Nurturing innovation and resilience

Apart from investment forums and seminars on industry trends and cacao-related projects, the second day of BLENDS introduced an engaging activity designed for culinary students.

Young participants eagerly joined the pastry making and cocktail crafting, showcasing their entrepreneurial spirit.

These students were enrolled in TESDA's three-year diploma programs in tourism and events management, computer technology, and hospitality and restaurant services.

Gumana pointed out the profile of participants joining the event, saying "obviously, ang nagpa-participate [those participating] were youth. Barista, brewing, pastries, and cocktails. It only shows na ang ating government [that our government] is really encouraging that the youth engage in entrepreneurship. Hindi yung matanda na saka mag-engage into entrepreneurship [Rather than waiting until they are older to engage in it].”

Lariba, on the other hand, explained that the celebration of BLENDS was also geared toward promoting a market-driven approach, encouraging students to learn more about “cacao industry trends, cacao quality assurance through cacao bean grading and sensory evaluation, and the patronization of local products through the conduct of competitions, such as art of mixology, pastries, baking, and cocktail competitions.”

For this competition, the Systems Technology Institute (STI) school emerged as the overall champion, securing awards for the best pastry, best cocktail, and best presentation.

Senior Technical Education Skills Education Specialist Chris Castino, representing TESDA Region 12, described the value-added products as having been derived from locally sourced raw materials from farmer organizations and MSMEs, adding that these will serve as resources for product development and future technological research.

“We also would love to commend DTI for its dedication to empowering SMEs through various capacity-building programs, access to markets, and assistance opportunities. And for this BLENDS, we would really make a statement that boosting the local economy is also mirroring the direction of TESDA toward using an area-based and demand-driven [approach],” she said.

The Treasures of Region 12 is not only a celebration of the priority products and other agricultural crops of the Soccsksargen region but also of the champions and advocates behind the products, who serve as prides and inspirations to many, going the extra mile to elevate and bring world prestige to all these products that are the treasures of Region 12. (Photo: PIA 12 - SarGen)

On gains, creativity, and competitiveness

It was a coffee appreciation day on the event’s closing day, October 1, as it was timed with the celebration of International Coffee Day. The youth, primarily the beneficiaries of the event, enjoyed the activities such as the barista crash course, latte art competition, and brewer's cup competition.

The BLM Neighborhood Coffee was hailed as the champion in the Regional Brewers' Cup 2023, while Ferdie Layco won the first-ever BLENDS of Region 12 Latte Art Throwdown.

With collective sales of P46,682,317, the top three sellers during the three-day fair were Gacayan General Merchandise from Sultan Kudarat, ranking 1st with P10,193,755 in total sales, followed by Seven R Coffee Processing and General Merchandise from Sultan Kudarat with a total sales of P10,169,259, and Sebastian’s Food Ingredients Trading from Koronadal, South Cotabato, coming in 3rd with total sales of P583,060.

“Overall I would say na ‘yung ating pag-conduct ng BLENDS Treasures has been successful, if we measure it sa ating activities na naconduct, sa participation, and even sa sales na nagenerate [I would say that the conduct of BLENDS Treasures has been successful, if we measure it based on our conducted activities, participation, and even the generated sales], Gumana declared.

Robert Ofrecio, chief of DTI 12’s Small and Medium Enterprise Development Division, highlighted the effectiveness of the value chain and market-driven approaches in fortifying the local economy.

"We can enhance production through expansion," he said. "That's why we've been helping farmers expand their coffee and cacao farms, with a maximum of 1 hectare per farmer. For productivity, we provide training on good agricultural practices."

Ofrecio added that their strategy of supporting farmer organizations and facilitating connections with various buyers, rather than farmers selling their products individually, significantly contributes to the overall economy using the value chain approach.

“The price is better if the products are consolidated by a farmer organization. If we link it to an institutional buyer, the product will command a better price,” he added.

Reinforcing the statement, ARD Reginio also stressed the fact that generated income from the event "would get back to the economy... of course, when there is a lot of money revolving in the economy, there are lots of opportunities that will happen, which will also include more job opportunities as enterprises seek additional human resources.”

For this event, DTI 12 expressed its heartfelt gratitude to their partners: KCC Gensan and Veranza Mall, DA, DAR, PCA, DOT, TESDA, PIA, the provincial local government units (LGU) of South Cotabato, Sarangani, Sultan Kudarat, and Cotabato, and the city government of General Santos led by Mayor Lorelie Geronimo Pacquiao, the Regional MSME Development Council 12, the Regional Coffee and Cacao Councils 12, the participating schools and speakers, MSMEs, One Town, One Product (OTOP) Hubs, and farmer organizations.

The success of Treasures of Region 12: BLENDS Edition has indeed demonstrated the potential for collaboration and growth in the region, opening up numerous opportunities for job seekers as enterprises expand. But for the DTI, the event has not only celebrated entrepreneurship but also the rich agricultural heritage of Region 12. (HJPF - PIA SarGen)

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Harlem Jude Ferolino

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