By OLIVER SAMSON
Manases Evasco, 37, was a nurse at a Capuchin friar community in Mandaluyong when a cousin lost his job at a food and beverage company in 2016. When Manases’ cousin returned home to Barcelona, a coastal town in Sorsogon, Evasco decided to provide him with a source of livelihood, so he bought 10 baby pigs.
The piglets were raised in pens surrounded by mangrove palms in Barangay Tagdon. Evasco supplied the feed. His cousin provided the labor to grow them. After about three months, all ten sold for P24,000. He gave half of the amount to his cousin. When he did the math, he learned that they generated a profit of no less than P2,000 per head.
"It gave me the idea that if we grow more pigs, we can make a bigger profit," Evasco said. "So, we grew 20 heads, 30 heads, then 50 heads. It all started when my cousin lost his job and I wanted him to have a source of income."
Evasco managed his growing venture as a remote farmer for three years, supervising it from his space at the Capuchin community in Mandaluyong. Barcelona is more than 600 kilometers south of Manila. At times, he would go home to Barcelona to personally check the pigs and also visit his parents. By this time, he also was growing some broilers.
In 2020, during the first year of the pandemic, he decided to become a full-time farmer after serving the friars for "happy seven years."
"The Capuchins take care and pay their nurses well," Evasco said.
Prior to the Capuchins, he also worked as a public and private nurse for four years. As a public nurse, he joined government efforts in raising public awareness on health in communities. As a private nurse, he waited for discharged patients at the exit of hospitals in Manila and offered to look after them at their own homes.
Before the pandemic, Evasco and his wife Reina, who was still his fiancee at the time, bought a four-hectare coconut farm in barangay Olandia, more or less three kilometers southwest of barangay Tagdon. The two got married during the pandemic in 2021.
The depth of the bottom of their farm from the side of the road measures about a hundred meters. It looks like a small valley from the roadside. They built a concrete stairway of 145 steps on the sharp incline to access the bottom, where he does most of his farming.
They chose the farm with tall and wide slopes to contain the smell of animal waste so that it would not reach the nearby houses. The soaring and broad slopes also serve as natural barriers protecting the animals and structures from strong winds during typhoons.
Evasco's original intention in growing pigs was only to provide his cousin a livelihood. But when they started producing dozens of baby pigs, he decided to generate livelihood for more locals. By the time of this interview, he had already dispensed several hundreds of piglets over the past years to small and backyard raisers. He provided the feeds while the recipients provided the labor in growing them. When the pigs are sold, he gives half of the proceeds to his partner backyard growers. He calls this partnership with small and backyard raisers the "Paataman Program."
"The program gets 80 percent of the piglets we produce," he said. "The rest are bought by other local hog raisers. Every month we produce piglets since we have 26 active mother pigs."
Evasco avoids growing piglets when the time to sell them will fall in the months of August, September, and October. The price of live and dressed meat in Barcelona and neighboring towns is lowest during said months. He once suffered losses when he sold dozens of pigs during these months. But he had learned his lesson and won't repeat the same mistake.
He currently has about a hundred heads under the Paataman Program. He himself buys the pigs raised by his own program recipients. The pigs under the program supply the meat in his meat shops.
A small version of his program had already been in practice in the town for many years, but it was Evasco who pioneered dispensing small and backyard raisers more or less a hundred baby pigs at a time, supplying them with feed.
Evasco initially had no plans to butcher his own produce. His original intention was to sell them and make a profit per head. But when he saw an oversupply of pigs in the town years ago that triggered a sharp slide in the price of live meat, he decided to open a meat shop in the town proper.
The oversupply in hogs was triggered by meat shop owners in the neighboring towns when they started buying pigs from sellers outside the province who peddled them on trucks at low prices.
As a result, the hog raisers in town were forced to sell their produce at a lower price. So, Evasco decided to open a meat shop, butcher his own livestock, and sell the meat.
"I realized that even when you don't have any plan to expand your business, or engage in a new venture, you are compelled to do it to protect yourself and the affected people around you."
They opened the meat shop in a bid to stabilize the price of live and dressed meat in favor of hog growers in Barcelona.
In October 2021, husband and wife opened their second meat shop in the next town of Bulusan. A few months later, they opened their third in barangay Luneta, Barcelona.
Since their market has expanded after opening two more outlets, the meat produced under his Paataman Program has come short to meet the demand growth, prompting him to source meat from other hog growers in the area to buffer the needed supply.
The recent surge in hog feed costs might inflate the number of people interested in his program. Barcelona, a 5th class municipality, has a poverty incidence of 28.35 percent, according to a 2018 Philippine Statistics Authority data.
Evasco has been growing broilers as a remote farmer even when he was still with the Capuchins. Today, he averages 500 heads at a time.
"Right now, the number of broilers we produce are not even enough to meet the demand in our meat shops," he said.
In 2017, two years after he started raising pigs, they opened a hog and poultry feed retail store in barangay Tagdon. They later transferred it to the town proper to expand the store for a bigger market.
Surrounded by relatives and friends who are cockfighting aficionados, Evasco makes use of the otherwise less productive slanted spaces in his farm to age some gamefowl. Today, he has dozens of roosters at concrete teepees on the slopes.
"It's one way of promoting our hog and poultry supply store," he said. "You become friends with the aficionados. They patronize your store. Some of them also grow pigs. They become your market."
Evasco's farm has a natural spring inside it, supplying their need for water. Recently, he built a small pond for tilapia for own consumption and leisure.
Their four-hectare farm has been planted to coconut for many years even before they acquired it before the pandemic. Today, they process the mature coconuts into copra, or dehusk them, and sell to local copra dealers.
When coconuts are processed into copra, the farmers can turn the refused shells into charcoal. The charcoal from the coconut shell is more preferred by locals as cooking fuel than its wood counterpart. And besides, processing the wood into charcoal is now banned due to a deforestation issue.
A regular plastic bag of coconut shell charcoal sells for P20, or P100 for one 14.6L empty tin oil container.
The coconut shells are processed into charcoal by burning them while covered with earth to starve them of oxygen so that they will not turn into ashes, carbonizing them as a result.
"The money we generate from the coconut is used to pay the electric bill in the farm," Evasco said, who has six stay-in helpers in his farm in barangay Olandia. "We provide our broilers with light and we have some freezers here for storing meat."
The mature coconuts are harvested every 45 days. Some do it monthly.
To maximize the spaces in the farm, a total of 1,500 mahogany seedlings were planted several months ago.
The mahogany tree takes about 10 years to mature. It reaches full maturity at the age 40 years. It's regarded as one of the fastest-growing trees.
The mahogany tree is sourced for durable hardwood. Its hardwood is used in making furniture and musical instruments for its dark finish and close grain, like pianos and guitars.
The 4"x4"x25" mahogany wood is sold for P980 a piece on an e-commerce shop. A 2"x36"x45" for P5,000.
"We can source some of these mahogany trees for medical and other expenses when my wife and I reach our senior age," he said.
Evasco, a graduate in Nursing from Our Lady of Fatima University, has no formal background in any discipline of agriculture. His know-how in hog raising and poultry production is largely derived through his readings from the Internet, and eventually his actual experience.
A section of the farm is now planted to pineapples. No less than 500 banana plants are also now bearing fruit. He also raises carabaos and ducks and is currently considering farm expansion for egg production.
"There's a lot more to put in the farm," he said. "Farming can be a profitable industry if you give your heart and exploit your talent for it."
Photos courtesy of Manases Evasco