Apayao is a province renowned for its sprawling fields of rice, corn, and tropical fruits. However, a lesser-known yet thriving industry quietly looms—aquaculture. Despite being landlocked, Apayao touts a flourishing aquaculture scene, nurturing freshwater creatures like tilapia and catfish amidst its verdant landscapes.

Once teeming with an overwhelming presence of giant freshwater prawns, locally known as “ulang” in Tagalog or “udang” in Ilocano, Apayao’s waters bore witness to a flourishing ecosystem. Yet, as the tides of climate change and population growth swept through the region, the once abundant ulang population dwindled, leaving a void in the province’s aquatic landscape.

Regardless, 30-year-old Lovy Trinidad, a native of Pudtol, Apayao, transformed this challenge into an opportunity. With a vision fueled by perseverance, Lovy embarked on a bold endeavor—to reclaim the lost glory of ulang through her pioneering aquaculture venture, “Ra’sawan Ulang Aqua Farm.”

“Ra’sawan” is an Isnag word which means “big shrimp.” For Lovy, her aqua farm symbolizes not just an enterprise, but a testament to her dedication to her family and the community.

Lovy originally intended to build a pond as a retirement present for her father. But as Lovy embarked on a journey to cultivate this freshwater bounty, she realized a more profound cause—to provide livelihood for her compatriots.

“The mission of this enterprise is to replenish the abundance of ulang here in the province. We also want to create jobs for the people,” explained Lovy.


Seeds of opportunity

Lovy’s aquatic journey found momentum by joining the Young Farmers’ Challenge (YFC) competition of the Department of Agriculture (DA), a platform that transformed her modest aspirations into tangible realities.

Armed with determination and supported by the DA-Cordillera (DA-CAR) and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR)-Apayao, Lovy sailed through the provincial and regional-level competitions. This granted her enterprise a total start-up capital of P230,000, necessary to build her aqua farm.

Despite not clinching the national level, Lovy expressed gratitude for the opportunity to present her business model canvas at the highest level of the competition. She takes pride in her journey, having triumphed from the provincial to the regional level, representing her province along the way.

“It made me proud that I set an example, especially to the aspiring young agri-preneurs,” beamed Lovy, acknowledging that the cash prize was of huge help in kickstarting her enterprise.

The startup capital facilitated the excavation of two 500-square-meter ponds capable of housing up to 5,000 postlarvae. This translates to a yield of 350 to 380 kilograms of ulang grow-outs within six months. Additionally, funds were allocated for procuring ulang postlarvae from suppliers in Pangasinan and Batangas.

Lovy also shared the completion of their ulang hatchery, which will allow them to produce their own postlarvae. This initiative will make the enterprise self-sufficient, sustainable, and independent from external suppliers.

At a farm gate price of P400 per kilo, the enterprise stands to generate staggering gross sales ranging from P140,000 to P152,000.


Fostering growth

Beyond agri-preneurship, Lovy’s passion for education intertwines with her side hustle. As a high school teacher by profession, she never forgets to instill the value of food security in her students.

“Sabi ko (to her students), ‘Mag-alaga tayo ng isda para meron kayong ihawin ‘pag kayo ay nag-graduate. Magtanim [din] tayo ng pechay para meron tayong gulay. Makakalimutan niyo ang subject-verb agreement, but the life skills that I am teaching you right now, pwede niyong baunin after [your] graduation,’” Lovy narrated.


Weighing duties

Balancing her profession as a public school teacher with the demands of running an enterprise proves to be a daunting task for Lovy.

With working hours from 7:30 am to 5 pm, she must navigate her schedule with precision. The logistical challenge is compounded by the geographical dispersion of her residence, school, and aqua farm across different barangays. Commuting from school to the farm entails a 30 to 40-minute drive, further stretching her already packed schedule.

Nonetheless, at the core of her determination lies a deep-seated desire to provide livelihood opportunities for her community.

“Minsan iniisip ko, ano bang pinaglalaban ko?” bantered Lovy. “Before ko pinasok itong enterprise na ito, I wanted to create jobs for the people. That is one of my driving forces in order for me to continue doing things.”

“Opportunities are rare. You can grab or create opportunities for yourself. Opportunities are presented, but it’s up to you if you will grab it or not,” affirmed Lovy.


Looking ahead

To expand her network, Lovy joined a Facebook group dedicated to ulang growers. Here, she connects with like-minded individuals and scouts for suppliers of ulang juveniles, post-larvae, and breeders. Lovy also utilized social media, creating a Facebook page for her enterprise. This platform allows her to showcase products and engage potential customers.

Conducting a market analysis in nearby areas, Lovy identified Tuguegarao City as a promising target market for her ulang products. However, recognizing the versatility of her current business model, she aims to cater to neighboring municipalities as well.

She is envisioning her enterprise to become the largest manufacturer and supplier of ulang in Apayao. She also wants to further extend her product line by selling “smoked ulang,” gaining inspiration from Apayao’s very own “sinapan” (smoked meat).

“This is the future of Ra’sawan Ulang Aqua Farm. Instead of focusing on production, we go to processing as well. Maybe next year, ‘pag meron na kaming na-produce from the [aqua farm], we will venture on the processing naman,” she stated.


‘Anything is possible’

Lovy’s story is a testament to the ingenuity of youth, the power of dreams, and the transformative potential of the YFC program. As Ra’sawan Ulang Aqua Farm flourishes, Lovy’s legacy is etched into the fabric of her community—a reminder that with determination, anything is possible.

“If your heart tells you to do so, you go do it. Because life is too short, and you are guided by the Lord. Hindi mo naman talaga alam ‘yung ginagawa mo, pero ‘pag nag-proceed ka lang, you will eventually put the pieces of the puzzles together. Do not be ashamed of saying that I don’t know it yet,” expressed Lovy.

Looking back at what she has accomplished so far, Lovy views the establishment of the Ra’sawan Ulang Aqua Farm as a monumental achievement. With unwavering support from her family and invaluable assistance from DA-CAR and BFAR-Apayao, Lovy finds the strength to carry on.

“I want to extend my warmest gratitude [to DA-CAR] for honing us aspiring young agri-preneurs. Without the Young Farmers’ Challenge program, I wouldn’t know my capability as a person who is venturing into something unfamiliar to me. DA-CAR gave me the opportunity to prove to myself that I can do things outside of my comfort zone,” she remarked.// Joven B. Peralta