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Philippines: Farmer makes it big with lettuce

In a country where agriculture plays an important role in ensuring food security and driving economic development, programs that support and empower young farmers are nothing short of essential. The Department of Agriculture's Young Farmers Challenge Program (YFC) stands as a beacon of hope, offering financial grant assistance and invaluable business development services to the youth eager to make their mark in the world of agribusiness. One such success story is that of Kariza Mae Therese B. Baclig, a 28-year-old agripreneur hailing from Gonzaga, Cagayan, Philippines.

Kariza's journey with the YFC Program began with a vision of contributing to the nation's agricultural development. Armed with determination and a clear plan, she received a crucial kickstart: a P50,000.00 financial grant as start-up capital for her proposed agribusiness venture in 2021. This boost from the government was instrumental in turning her dreams into reality.

The cornerstone of her enterprise, the Innergrow Hydroponic Farm, is situated in Tuguegarao City, Cagayan. It is no ordinary farm; it is an indoor hydroponic setup that utilizes artificial lighting to cultivate quality, healthy, and fresh lettuce for daily consumption. To acquire the necessary expertise, Kariza pursued formal training in Advanced Hydroponics at the FarmTech Agricultural Learning Center.

Initially focusing solely on lettuce production, Kariza's agribusiness quickly evolved. The opportunity arose to diversify her offerings, and she seized it with gusto. She introduced lettuce salad rolls featuring her homemade roasted sesame dressing—an instant hit among consumers. Employing savvy marketing strategies, including social media promotion and word-of-mouth, Kariza's products gained popularity.

Her commitment to her agribusiness led her to display her hydroponic farm setup and lettuce salad rolls at the KADIWA trade fair at Robinsons Mall Tuguegarao City, resulting in increased demand. She even began sourcing hydroponically-grown lettuce from fellow growers to meet the surging demand, especially from samgyupsal stores.

To address the supply challenge and fulfill growing orders, Kariza expanded her agri-enterprise, establishing a large-scale production facility in her hometown, Gonzaga, Cagayan. Her dedication to her mission is evident in her employment of technical personnel, regular farm helpers, and on-call assistance.

Today, Kariza is a dependable supplier to two samgyupsal restaurants, ensuring a steady flow of lettuce and salad rolls. She has also introduced a unique pick-and-pay system, allowing customers to explore her 144-square-meter greenhouse, handpick locally-grown lettuce, and pay for their harvest—a concept that has resonated with consumers.

Kariza's commitment to agribusiness excellence recently earned her a place among the Top 10 Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) in the BPI Seal SEGA Competition. As a result, she received a generous grant of Php 120,000 and gained access to a mentorship program that will further nurture her agribusiness aspirations. Moreover, she is currently an incubatee at the Agribusiness and Developed Processed Products—Technology Business Incubator (ADePt-TBI).

Kariza's story is not just about her personal success but also about the potential of young farmers to significantly enhance the nation's agricultural productivity. She envisions a future where government programs like the YFC continue to inspire and support the youth's active participation in agribusiness. Kariza's journey serves as an inspiring testament to what young agripreneurs can achieve with the right support and determination.

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