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Agri-preneur’s success for a perfect quality and tasty lechón

CANDELARIA, Quezon – Even before finalizing and splurging on the Yuletide holiday season and New Year’s fare, try this lechón (roasted suckling pig) specialty, not from Cebu’s famed outlets but of semi-organic pigs raised from this town’s successful agri-preneurship, which is behind the “Pambansang Lechón” of the Elarz fame.

In an interview with the Philippine News Agency, Raffy Antes, corporate communications officer of the Center for Agriculture and Rural Development (CARD)-Mutually Reinforcing Institutions (MRI) based in Bay, Laguna shared how pig quality also contributes to getting the perfect taste for this mouth-watering delicacy popular among Filipinos.

“Every celebration in the Philippines calls for a feast. While native delicacies are always present on the buffet table, lechón is absolutely the dish that should not be missed,” Antes said, pointing to this roasted fare as Cuba’s national dish and obviously a gastronomic delight in Spain and other Latin-American countries throughout the centuries.

He said that while there’s no doubt the lechón of Cebu is the most famous in terms of the quality of pig, as recognized by the late American chef Anthony Bourdain, the quest for making a perfect lechón also entails the way pig farmers raise semi-organic “lechónables” (ready-to-roast) as proven by successful ‘Candelarian’ agri-preneur Ruel Mariano Marquez.

Ruel, fondly referred to as the “Boss” by his neighbors “is not the typical boss you’ll see holding meetings in a conference room or someone who is in suit roaming around the metro,” but rather the boss of the masses.

“People in their community give high respect to this man because of his dedication in supporting local farmers by letting them venture into hog raising business,” CARD-MRI said of Ruel as a client of CARD-Business Development Service Foundation Inc. (CARD-BDSFI).

Up close, Ruel grew up in a family, whose source of living comes from pig farming and an outsourcing business venture that is now profitable - considering the short span of time needed to grow a pig for lechón.

As second to the eldest among seven siblings, Ruel has been supplying pigs to lechón producers, of course to the popular Elarz owned by Manuel Enrique Zalamea, whom he met in 2015.

Zalamea also prompted him and his wife to encourage neighbors to likewise raise pigs in a production sharing scheme to start business.

At a young age, Ruel mustered the determination to take charge of their family business due to his father and eldest sibling’s illnesses, and has since skipped plan to pursue high school education and instead devote himself to the pig raising business.

He has expanded his farm’s pigpen to accommodate the number of pigs they can outsource every day.

“I have seen and experienced the spite of poverty. I know it is hard that is why I am doing this to at least help my neighbors earn additional income,” revealed Ruel, recalling how he provided every household the piglets and their needed feeds and organic foods.

As a simple requirement, every household should have their own pigpen but the challenge for some of the potential hog raisers was that they have no budget for the pigpen construction.

Like Ruel, these households are also clients of CARD Bank, a microfinance-oriented rural bank, which provided them loans to start their desired business venture.

As the demand for pig supply increases, so is the need for additional capitalization, prompting Ruel to seek help from Elarz, which introduced him to CARD-BDSFI in 2017 through the foundation’s chief executive, Julius Adrian Alip.

The foundation, through CARD Leasing and Finance Corporation (CLFC), helped Ruel in acquiring the huge lot he needs for his pigpen.

The CLFC, on the other hand, finances social enterprise and micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) that have potential in creating value proposition for microentrepreneurs.

According to Ruel, the income of this kind of business venture is derived after the cost of piglet and its food are subtracted from the gross sales. The minimum number of pigs every household can accommodate is at least 30, which could generate more than PHP 15,000 in just two months.

Inspired by these two CARD-MRI micro-finance institutions, Ruel has expanded his investment in Oriental Mindoro.

“This is a dream realized because my only hope is to make every household have the opportunity to earn money and save for their family,” he said.

While in Oriental Mindoro, Ruel, along with CARD-BDSFI, organized a series of community meetings and introduced his advocacy, finding it easy to look for hog raisers there because majority of them are also clients of CARD financial institutions.

“Our scheme in Mindoro is different because majority of the households have the capacity already to buy and raise pigs. What they are just afraid of are sure buyers. So, I assured them by constructing a pigpen where they could stock their ready-to-lechón pigs,” shared Ruel.

From two pigs, every household tapped by Ruel and CARD-BDSFI in Mindoro is now raising up to seven pigs. CARD-BDSFI and Ruel also organized a series of trainings, especially on how to naturally raise pigs.

To date, Ruel has 12 hog raisers in Quezon Province while more than 600 families in 12 areas in Oriental Mindoro are now supplying him with pigs.

His and his co-farmers’ businesses in Quezon are now producing at least 800 pigs every two months while they also harvest at least 350 pigs per week in Mindoro.

So, that’s a great deal of “lechónables” and the Candelarian pig raiser expressed optimism to beef-up the number of household-suppliers of pigs next year, this time covering Mindoro Occidental.

Ruel’s partner hog raisers Vilma and Edelberto de Chavez for more than three years now disclosed that the business has provided them the opportunity to provide food on their table every day.

“Every week, we sold at least 10 pigs to Ruel. Then another set of piglets are given to us to be raised for a few months. This flow of business is keeping our family needs intact,” added Vilma.

Ruel has also advised them of the importance of financial management, that is to be mindful of managing cash flow.

“That is why, after initial harvest, I remind them to save and invest for something that they could benefit from in a short or long term basis,” he said. (PNA)