July 19, 2024

■  Hanna C. Lacsamana   

A young farmer from Poblacion, Tuba, Benguet has proven naysayers wrong when he decided to go into farming, after being told by many that it is better to go to school than to farm.

Now, 27-year-old Shawnie Dhale Bitso is not only an owner of a flourishing agricultural enterprise. He is also one of the latest awardees of the Department of Agriculture’s Young Farmers Challenge 2023, upscale category, besting other regional winners in the country.

With his parents’ guidance and support, Bitso decided to make something out of their small lot at home by cultivating oyster mushrooms, which he found growing abundantly in their backyard in Tuba.

He observed oyster mushroom has become a favorite commodity in his locality, but was also aware many people risk their lives foraging for wild mushrooms for consumption.

During the height of the pandemic, Bitso started the Sanagi Farm and made oyster mushroom as its main produce.

“We bring and sell our harvest in markets here in the Cordillera. We observed maraming may gusto ng mushrooms, and marami rin ang nagri-risk ng life to forage wild mushrooms. So in order to provide for those who love mushrooms, we decided to cultivate it in our home, which is safer than picking mushrooms which we are not sure if it is safe to eat,” he said.

Bitso later transformed his enterprise into Sanagi Agri-Farm, where he saw farming and the farm area itself not only as a place where to purchase their product but also as an opportunity for their guests and visitors especially his fellow youth to learn about and appreciate what farmers do.

“My vision is to invite the youth in agriculture because when we started, many said we should go to school tano saan ka agrigrigat no dumakkel ka. But then I saw opportunity in farming. When we started, it was not easy, but because of the help of the DA, we were given an opportunity to start even if we are young, that we can represent agriculture and we can uplift agriculture,” Bitso said in a press conference on June 18.

He said they turned their farm into a learning site and a farm tourism camp in order to encourage more visitors and a way of enticing young farmers and even senior citizens to their farm.

As one who started operating using small investment, Bitso is encouraging those who have small lots to plant what they can and grow their own food.

This way, he said they can reduce their expenses and help in addressing food insecurity.

Bitso’s Sanagi Farm is an accredited learning site for agriculture of the Agricultural Training Institute and accredited by the Department of Tourism-Cordillera as a tourist site.

The Young Farmers’ Challenge, through DA’s Agribusiness and Marketing Assistance Service, aims to empower youths who want to implement their agribusiness ventures.

It offers financial grants to young Filipinos who want to engage in new agri-business so that they will have a start-up capital for their venture.

As a national Young Farmers’ Challenge awardee, Bitso received P500,000 cash grant which will be used to expand his enterprise.

He was honored during the YFC awarding ceremony held on June 6 at the Philippine Rice Research Institute in Muñoz, Nueva Ecija.

With the cash grant he received from the regional and national YFC competitions, Bitso said they were able to upgrade Sanagi’s holding and learning area where they conduct seminars and also which serves as a rest area for guests.

Sanagi Farm also underwent innovative changes. It now has an incubation area for mushrooms using an insulator that is of Japan technology, which allows the farm to maintain the temperature inside its laboratory and incubation area.

“We also innovated on the (carrier) or where we place the mushrooms. What we are using now can last for years. We thought of innovating our ways so that we will have something to offer to those who want to try or go into mushroom production. They can just come to Sanagi Farm where they see things they can adopt,” he said.

For his latest grant, Bitso said they plan to build a better processing area for mushroom by-products, as they now have grissini mushroom or breadsticks, mushroom chicharon, and nachos that are a healthier choice for chips lovers, among other products.

Sharon Bitso, Shawnie’s mother, said the knowledge they had passed on to their son was also those she adopted from her father.

She also supports Shawnie’s enterprise by being active in promoting Sanagi’s products, empowering women farmers, offering advice to associations and the youth who are new in the farming industry, and joining DA’s and Department of Trade and Industry’s programs like the Kadiwa to promote their products.

Being one of the lecturers of Sanagi, Sharon continues to study at the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority so that she can continue sharing information and ways in farming to their guests at the learning site.

A complete turnaround in the advice and comments Shawnie previously took about farming indeed happened after his undertaking, which includes now having professionals who appreciate what he does after visiting Sanagi Agri-Farm. 

Dati, sabi nila ‘wag kang mag-farming, mag-school ka. Now, marami nang pumupuntang professionals like lawyers, doctors, and engineers (at the farm) and they shared that their plan now is to become a farmer. They said they wanted to have a farm like ours and do farming,” Bitso said.