By Patricia Bianca S. Taculao
Farmers usually make an income from their harvests. Especially now with more health-conscious individuals, their products are able to reach various markets all over the country. However, there are certain times such as natural disasters and diseases, when farmers would have to turn to other agriculture-related endeavors in order to make a profit.
Banking on this idea, a pair of young agriculturists, Marielle Sison and Benson Sua, started SowFresh, an enterprise in Malasiqui, Pangasinan that offers a variety of agri-products meant to aid farmers with their income and also help aspiring ones get started on farming.
One of the ongoing projects of SowFresh is lending a hand to Pangasinan farmers whose source of livelihood was shot due to the impact of the African Swine Fever (ASF) and the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.
To do this, Sison and Sua made use of the current situation and available resources in Pangasinan. Using buri palms, SowFresh came up with buri masks to aid both the farmers and weavers in the province.
Established fairly recently, the SowFresh team provides cost-friendly and sustainable solutions aimed towards improving the Philippine agriculture industry.
“The idea was in our minds for quite some time but found it impossible (for me personally) to get into because I was coming from enterprise tech, a totally different industry. Through time spent getting exposed in Benson’s agricultural work, I realized there is so much potential in modernizing Philippine agriculture. It is not getting the attention it deserves,” Sison said.
As a result, Sison decided to take the plunge in the hope of putting the spotlight on the local industry in their own small ways.
“With modernization in mind, we aim to impart knowledge on how we can maximize the use of our local farmers’ raw materials, increasing its value,” Sua said.
Buri masks to help Pangasinan farmers
Buri palms are one of the most common and largest palms in the Philippines. It can grow up to 20 meters in height and its leaves are large, fan-shaped, and reach up to three meters long.
According to the duo, the conceptualization of the buri masks was a collaboration between them and the farmers in Pangasinan.
“It’s commonplace in Pangasinan that wives of farmers would craft products like mats and bags out of buri in order to add more income for the household. And while most of their husbands were greatly affected by both ASF and COVID-19, we thought of the possibility of using the same material in making face masks,” they said.
Sison and Sua added that buri is not only a sustainable product, but it would also provide more opportunities to the people whose livelihood is affected by recent unfortunate events.
Both the farmers and SowFresh also have less trouble in terms of sourcing when it comes to the buri palm because this particular tree is abundant in the province. At the same time, being endemic to the Philippines, it didn’t take much effort to grow them.
“Growing up, we have been familiar with a variety of buri products like bags, hats, to placemats, and even pot holders. And seeing the abundance of buri, we saw the potential to make use of the material for its beauty,” Sison and Sua said.
The weaving pattern of the outer structure makes the face mask breathable as it’s not too close to the airways. For the inner layer, they’ve opted to use pure linen to go down a more natural route.
The material is also hypoallergenic and is comfortable to wear even for longer hours especially under the Philippine weather.
“We’re [even] getting a lot of feedback from most women that it doesn’t smudge their lipstick,” the duo shared.
One buri mask costs P280 and is reusable, eco-friendly, and made with two layers of pure linen, with a pocket for an extra filter for added security.
With the production of buri masks, SowFresh managed to create a new source of livelihood for the displaced farmers in Pangasinan.
“A weaver can earn as much as P1,000 a day. Some are even earning more than before the pandemic through our venture. As we are gaining international clients, we’re hiring more people to fulfill demand. And we’re proud that not only are we providing well-paying jobs, but also positioning the buri on the global stage as a Philippine-made product,” Sison and Sua said.
Modernization to aid Philippine agriculture
Aside from the production of buri masks, SowFresh also offers other products from their own farm such as silk squash (patola), giant peppers that measure about 10 inches on average, and a variety of tomatoes: cherry, campari, golden, and grape.
Beyond that, the enterprise also supports other Philippine agribusinesses by supplying necessary materials and constructing greenhouses and irrigation systems. These other services stem from SowFresh’s goal of invigorating the local agri industry through technology and processes that create a pathway for crop innovation.
The price of their products and services can range from P280 to P90,000.00, depending on the amount, labor, and other factors.
“As young agriculturists, we want to show our generation, as well as those younger than us, the value agriculture brings to our economy and the nation as a whole. We want to eliminate the stigma that agriculture is a low pay industry–all hard work, and dirty,” Sison and Sua said.
They hope to do this by making a difference and introducing innovations and initiatives that will encourage younger generations to see agriculture as a viable career path and as a means for the country to move forward.
For more information, visit SowFresh on Facebook.