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Philippines
Community engages in biotech enterprise
by the Go Negosyo team
17-April-2008 The Philippine STAR

The growing market for herbal-based products has made a rural community in Palawan, the country’s last ecological frontier, take advantage of the entrepreneurial spirit.

But instead of putting up a private company geared for high growth, Palaweños opted to start a social enterprise which has not only benefited them economically but also helped protect and preserve their environment.

Before the Palawan Center for Appropriate Rural Technology (PCART) was organized in 1984, many forested areas in northern Palawan were slashed and burned to become rice fields. But the costs proved too steep; while lands subjected to kaingin (slash and burn) became permanently deforested, each hectare only produced an average of 10 cavans of palay every year.

“But we can’t blame the people living there,” explained Dr. Jose Antonio Socrates, Palawan’s Provincial Health Officer and chair of PCART. “Because farming was the only thing they knew, they had to do it or else they would starve.”

PCART is a non-stock, non-profit non-government organization (NGO) engaged in development work with rural communities in Northern Palawan. It started as a peasant organizing program of the Farmers’ Assistance Board (FAB), a national NGO.

But after a year, the program took on other issues aside from peasant organizing to respond to the other needs and concerns of the community. “We realized that what communities need is a sustainable organization that will help their livelihood, their lives and the environment,” said Socrates.

Soon, it evolved into a full-blown organization, separate from the FAB, and was formally registered with the Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission in February 1985.

Today, as it continues to organize marginalized sectors in the rural areas of Palawan, PCART also endeavors to empower them and address their basic problems, such as poverty, lack of access to productive sectors and environmental degradation.

“We believe community organizing necessarily involves socio-economic support services,” said Socrates. “So we focus primarily on sustainable agriculture, enterprise development, and health and social welfare.”

From just five communities 24 years ago, PCART is now working with 19 barangays and their partnership has resulted in the significant and continuous transformation of the people and their environment, providing food security, basic facilities and services, forest preservation and increased health and gender awareness.

“After more than a decade of development work, we realized we had to become more sustainable,” explained Socrates. “PCART had to be self-sufficient; we can’t afford to just rely on donations for funding of our projects.”

Their efforts resulted in the creation of the Palawan Bio-Farm Enterprises (PBE) in 1998, which engaged in a social enterprise they called the Herbal Processing Project, their biggest income-generating project so far. Despite having a separate structure, PBE remains non-stock and owned by PCART.

“The project primarily involves the production and processing of a variety of herbs into powder to supply the needs of the growing herbal industry,” Socrates said.

Their long-time funding partners, Helvetas (Swiss Association for International Cooperation) and Bread for the World, a Germany-based organization, contributed the seed money used for buying equipment, the construction of a processing plant and drying facilities in participating communities, and the development of initial herbal production areas.

Increased opportunities from a growing herbal market recently allowed PBE to expand their product line and enter into trading other products of PCART’s partner communities, like unpolished organic rice (black, red and brown varieties), organic vegetables, wild honey, cashew nut, taro, banana, abaca and agutay (wild abaca), copra meal, and various handicrafts and ornaments.

But even as they expand, Socrates said that PCART remains clear in its focus on community development. “A conscious effort to ensure our partner communities’ food security, income and sustained resource base is ingrained in us already. That’s our template for success,” he added.

Yesterday, Joey Concepcion, founding trustee of the Philippine Center for Entrepreneurship (PCE), together with Maoi Arroyo of Hybridigm Consulting and Rolando Hortaleza of Splash Corp. led the conferring of recognitions to PCART represented by their Executive Director Laurence Padilla as Go Negosyo’s Most Inspiring Biotechnology Community Venture, in the 4th Annual Philippine Biotechnology Venture Summit at the Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health Auditorium in Ortigas Avenue, Pasig City.

The Summit, which runs until Friday, is organized by Hybridigm Consulting, the pioneering technology commercialization firm, under the leadership of Maoi Arroyo. Go Negosyo has reiterated its strong commitment to recognize inspiring entrepreneurs throughout the country to present them as role models, in line with PCE’s vision to create an entrepreneurial culture in the country.

The public is invited to attend the Biotechnology Venture Summit to discover and learn innovative business ideas and new opportunities in the biotech field. For more information on the Biotech Summit, call 8108639 or log on to http://summit.philbiotech.net.

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