Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Interesting Agri People at the Vegetable Forum

ERWIN ESCUDERO, Cagayan de Oro, 33, was a student pilot who opted to go into agribusiness. We met him at the Vegetable Growers, Traders and Financiers Forum in Cebu City organized by East-West Seed Company in late November 2008.

MANGO KILLER. Erwin quips that he is known in Cagayan de Oro as the “Mango Killer” because he cut down many of the 900 old mango trees he and his father had been managing on an 8.7-hectare property they own.

He said that mango is not a profitable crop to grow in Cagayan de Oro. One time they spent ₱600,000 to induce 900 trees to flower and bear fruit. They only made a profit of ₱200,000 which he considered minuscule compared to the money and time spent. They tried to induce their mango trees seven more times but to no avail.

Finally, in 2005 Erwin sprayed 500 trees. The flowers were rained out. That was the last straw. He cut down 400 trees and made them into charcoal.

EXCITED ABOUT VEGETABLES. When we met him in Cebu City, he was excited about high-value vegetables. In May 2008 Erwin planted sweet pepper on three hectares. He harvested the first fruits in August and when harvesting was over, he got a total of 25 tons which he sold for an average of ₱30 per kilo. That was very profitable.

There was also one hectare that he planted later to sweet pepper which was being harvested when we interviewed him. He was harvesting two times a week, averaging 600 kilos weekly. At that time the price was ₱40 per kilo.

SHORT GESTATION PERIOD. Erwin loves high-vegetables because they have a short gestation period. Mangoes produce fruits only once a year. On the other hand, two crops of high-value vegetables could be planted in one year. There are even some that could be planted three or more times a year like cucumber, pakchoy, mustard, etc. One can stagger planting in such a way that there is cash flow throughout the year. And if quality of the produce is high, there is no problem marketing the same, according to Erwin. He has a stall at the Agora market inCagayan de Oro where he sells most of his harvest.

He revealed during our interview that he will also be planting next other high-value crops such as sweet corn, eggplant and tomato. He says vegetable production is more profitable than mango but one has to pay more attention to vegetables. If possible, he has to visit his plants every day. Contact Erwin at 0928-316-8416.


VIRGIE LLIDO, 66, of Cagayan de Oro, is also known as Kalabasa Queen. We previously met her in Cagayan de Oro in July 2008 and then again at the Vegetable Forum in Cebu City in late November 2008. The exciting news we got from her in Cebu is that a company in Manila is putting up a huge factory for the manufacture of flour from non-traditional raw materials, including squash. She said that representatives of the company have gone to her a number of times asking her to supply 250 tons of squash a month once the factory starts operating. Of course, that’s an exciting development.

RAGS-TO-RICHES. Virgie’s is a rags-to-riches story. She is a widow, 66, with 8 children who are now all well placed in their own professions. Before 1990, she was just an ordinary vegetable vendor in the city’s public market, selling small amounts of sayhote, potatoes and the like. One thing that changed her life tremendously was the telephone in her stall.

A certain lady from Iligan City whom she only knew as Aling Baby requested that she be allowed to use Virgie’s telephone number as her contact number in Cagayan de Oro. Up to now, though, she does not know Aling Baby’s complete name. She has lost contact with her completely.

One day in 1990, Virgie received a telephone call from Flor Noma, a vegetable dealer in Divisoria. She was looking for Aling Baby. Virgie told the caller that Aling Baby had not reported to Cagayan de Oro for a long time now and that she did not know her whereabouts.

The caller told Virgie that she badly needed two container vans of Suprema squash. Could she then buy the two container vans (total of 16 tons) of squash for her? At that time and up to now, Suprema from East-West Seed is the preferred variety and it is being produced in Bukidnon and Misamis Oriental in really big volume.

Virgie frankly told Flor that she did not have any experience in shipping squash to Manila. She was just an ordinary vendor. Besides, she did not have the money to buy the big volume of squash. To which Flor immediately answered that she will send her the money.

Right away Flor sent her ₱50,000 through the Allied Bank. For a day, Virgie said she did not get the money from the bank. It was such a big amount for her. She had not received such an amount in her life. When she told Flor that she did not know how to ship the squash, Flor told her to see a certain Daday in Malaybalay. Fortunately, she knew Daday and so she contacted her. Daday would help Virgie to ship the squash.

It turned out that the ₱50,000 was not enough to pay for the two container vans of squash as each cost ₱32,000. She called Flor that the money was not enough, and Flor immediately sent ₱20,000. There was an excess of ₱6,000 so Virgie called up Flor again to return the excess amount.

Flor told Virgie to keep the amount as her payment for doing her the favor of buying and shipping the 2 container vans of squash. From then on, Virgie became Flor’s assembler of Suprema squash.

Virgie is now a multi-millionaire in her own right. She now supplies two other dealers in Manila besides Flor. She ships more than 10 container vans a week to Manila, 6 to Cebu and 4 to Bacolod. She buys her supplies from close to a hundred farmers in Misamis and Bukidnon. She herself plants Suprema on 32 hectares that was mortgaged to her for ₱375,000. She owns three big trucks used for hauling the harvests of farmers who sell to her. She has also bought the bodega where she conducts her business.

Virgie has also become some kind of a celebrity in Cagayan de Oro. After we featured her in Panorama Magazine, a staff of Jessica Soho of GMA Network called us up inquiring how to get in touch with Virgie. Subsequently, she was featured in Jessica’s TV program.

Virgie’s daughter who is a nurse stationed in Texas has petitioned her to migrate to the United States, or just to visit. Her visa to the US has already been approved but Virgie said she could not leave her squash business. It is a goldmine she can’t leave even for a short time. Photo shows Virgie (left) with Dr. Mary Ann Sayoc, general manager of East-West Seed Company, during the Vegetable Forum in Cebu. Virgie’s contact Nos. 0916-316-1411 and 088-583-0198.

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