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Patience yields a harvest of opportunities: Banaue’s farmers thrive through partnership with AboitizPower unit

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ITALIANA president Noemi Thomas (right) and other members of the association explore new product lines like native rice cookies (pictured above) as the oven frees up more time and expand the types of products they can produce.

In the scenic landscape of Banaue, Ifugao, where time-honored traditions merge with contemporary challenges, a group of enterprising farmers formed “ITALIANA” — a small food processing association with dreams as vast as the rice fields that stretch before them.

These dedicated farmers once grappled with the limitations of traditional methods and scarce resources. But thanks to Aboitiz Power Corporation’s (AboitizPower) support through its unit SN Aboitiz Power – Magat (SNAP-Magat), their story has transformed into a testament of resilience, collaboration, and shared prosperity.

Noemi Thomas, ITALIANA’s president, recalls those early days, when they had to exercise costly patience in waiting for their products to dry.

“Noong wala pang tulong ang AboitizPower, mahirap dahil kailangan naming maghintay talaga ng tatlong araw (Before AboitizPower provided assistance, it was difficult because we had to wait for three days),” she said. “At noong wala pa ‘yung oven, sayang ang mga araw na sana’y nakakapag-produce na kami. Nasasayang ang oras namin sa paghihintay na ma-dry ‘yung mga produkto (When the oven was not yet available, we wasted days that could’ve been used for production. We wasted time waiting for the products to dry).”

Little did they know that their patience would soon be rewarded with the generosity of a much needed helping hand.

Timely assistance

In January 2022, AboitizPower stepped in to offer support through SNAP-Magat’s “Partnership in Uplifting Upland Natural Resources, Livelihood, and Assets” project, or PUNLA. This collaborative effort with the provincial government of Ifugao held the promise of nurturing the land and the livelihoods of its inhabitants — bringing a renewed sense of hope to the community.

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SN Aboitiz Power’s (SNAP) Magat facility in Ramon, Isabela and Alfonso Lista, Ifugao is among the company’s roster of world-class hydroelectric power plants that are geared towards servicing the country’s demand for clean energy.

PUNLA’s initiative was multifaceted, embracing sustainability, supporting agricultural production, enhancing harvest processing, and creating pathways for livelihood opportunities in the province.

“Much like its English translation ‘seedling,’ PUNLA promises to grow even more. Hopefully, from this milestone will also come livelihood and enterprise development opportunities for the communities within the watershed throughout the rest of the project’s implementation,” said SNAP-Magat President and CEO Joseph S. Yu.

“Much like its English translation ‘seedling,’ PUNLA promises to grow even more. Hopefully, from this milestone will also come livelihood and enterprise development opportunities for communities within the watershed throughout the rest of the project’s implementation,” — SNAP-Magat President and CEO Joseph S. Yu

SNAP, beyond championing renewable energy, embodies a mission to empower Filipino communities, promote self-sustainability, and improve lives so that more families can have a brighter and more resilient future.

Beyond business

The name “ITALIANA” carries a rich history, crafted from the essence of four sitios where the members hail from — Itanungon, Talboc, Ibayong, and Awaan. ITALIANA is more than just a business; it is a tightly-knit family, where the bonds of camaraderie extend far beyond its association members, reaching out to embrace the surrounding communities.

In the year 2013, before the establishment of ITALIANA, a group of women from various sitios embarked on a transformative journey. They attended a series of seminars focusing on organic fertilizer production and the complete rice cultivation process, from planting to harvest. During these seminars, women were inspired to come together and form an association. This led to the creation of ITALIANA, which originally had 30 members.

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The scenic town of Banaue, Ifugao is home to ITALIANA, an association dedicated to food processing who recently became a beneficiary of an oven donated by AboitizPower subsidiary SNAP-Magat.

With the invaluable support of the municipal and provincial government, the association underwent a series of training and meetings. They not only learned the art of crafting organic fertilizer but also delved into the world of processed foods, including the creation of products like turmeric and ginger tea.

The year 2020 brought new opportunities and challenges. The Banaue municipal local government unit (MLGU) recognized the potential within this group of women and encouraged them to diversify their endeavors. The result was a delightful addition to their repertoire: cookies made from native rice. In the same year, the promising ITALIANA took a significant step by joining the Rural Based Organization (RDO) in Lagawe.

ITALIANA’s pursuit of excellence remained unwavering. In 2021, they proudly claimed a spot in the top 12 “Best Performing” RDOs, a testament to their dedication and hard work. The following year, in 2022, their aspirations soared even higher as they achieved a remarkable top 10 ranking.

As the journey of ITALIANA continued, the association witnessed a natural ebb and flow in its membership. While some members chose to part ways, their places were soon filled by others who were drawn to the thriving and inspiring community. Presently, ITALIANA boasts a diverse membership of 33 individuals, comprising 31 women and two men.

“Kaunti lang kami tapos may mga gusto pang dumagdag bilang miyembro. Nakita po nila na ‘yung ITALIANA is a growing association, na gumaganda ‘yung financial capability ng mga members (There are just a few of us, and there are still others who want to join as members. They see that ITALIANA is a growing association, and the financial capabilities of the members are improving),” Noemi shared.

The motivations for joining the association vary. Some members were initially drawn by the prospect of enhancing their financial stability, recognizing the positive impact of ITALIANA on its members’ financial well-being. While some joined the association to ease the financial capability, some joined just to acquire new skills.

“‘Yung ibang members namin, gusto nila dati na tumutulong-tulong lang pero noong natuto na sila, nakakapag-work na sila sa baking (Some of our members used to prefer just helping out, but when they learned, they are now capable of working in baking),” Noemi added.

“Nawa’y ipagpatuloy pa nila (SNAP) ang ginagawa nila na ganitong programa dahil sila ay lumalapit at talagang tinutulungan ‘yung mga tulad naming nasa laylayan at malalayong lugar (I hope they (SNAP) continue with what they’re doing with this program because these really reach us and genuinely help those like us in the marginalized and rural areas),” — Noemi Thomas, ITALIANA president

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ITALIANA president Noemi Thomas showcases the association’s products such as ginger tea, turmeric tea, rice coffee, and native rice cookies, among many others.

Harvest of opportunities

With gratitude, Elsie pledged that ITALIANA will take care of their plantationand oven as an expression of their appreciation for SNAP’s unwavering support that has brought tremendous positive change in the lives of the people.

“Nawa’y ipagpatuloy pa nila (SNAP) ang ginagawa nila na ganitong programa dahil sila ay lumalapit at talagang tinutulungan ‘yung mga tulad naming nasa laylayan at malalayong lugar (I hope they (SNAP) continue with what they’re doing with this program because these really reach us and genuinely help those like us in the marginalized and rural areas),” Noemi said.

The story of ITALIANA demonstrates how sustainable forms of support can bring about positive change in communities. With the power of collaboration, it’s now time for our farmers of ITALIANA to reap a bountiful harvest!

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Credit belongs to : www.mb.com.ph

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