AHON SA HIRAP, INC.
(A Microfinance NGO)
Mrs. Laarni Ditabalan
Opportunities in Laguna Lake
Raised and trained at an early age by her father in selling a variety of fresh fishes in the municipalities of Rizal and nearby Laguna, Laarni Antazo Ditablan was destined to become a successful fish entrepreneur. She got married to Enrico Ditablan at an early age of 22 with whom she has a nine-year old son. The family lives in Kalinawan, Binangonan, Rizal situated in Laguna de Bay.
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Laarni clearly recalls their early married life. Her husband then worked as a contractual factory worker in Laguna. With his meager income, they could not live on their own so they had to live with her parents. As a contractual, the family had to live with on and off workdays. It was a difficult time for them. Fortunately, while working in Laguna, her husband met several fishpond owners who were in need of tilapia fingerlings. Tilapia breeding happened to be one of the thriving livelihood in their community so Laarni and husband took this opportunity to venture on buying fingerlings from the locals and selling it to fishpond owners. While it was a lucrative business, capital was scarce, so Laarni decided to join Ahon sa Hirap (ASHI) to avail of more capital at a low interest rate. That was seven years ago. Over time, the couple’s fingerling buy and sell business prospered. As a member of ASHI, Laarni learned financial discipline and grew in financial literacy.
With the success of their first business, the couple raised enough money to start their own fish breeding business to accommodate the demand of their growing customers. With their earnings and with bigger loans granted to ASHI members who have high credit rating, the couple started breeding tilapia and put up their own tilapia nursery. They constructed different sizes of ponds/nets in Laguna Lake. Laarni’s husband continued to supply fingerlings to fishpond owners in Laguna and nearby municipalities in Rizal. At first her husband used to travel or rent a boat to deliver their commodities. But “it was hard and tiring” her husband recalls so they hired people to assist him in the business.
A growing demand on fingerlings supply and an increasing number of buyers made it necessary for the couple to buy a big boat which costed around P350,000.00. This boat they now use for delivery to big and small fishpond owners from different municipalities around Laguna Lake and as far as Batangas.
For the maintenance of the nursery and for fishing, the couple had to purchase 2 canoes (“lunday”) and 2 motorized fishing boats which naturally needed boatmen. The couple also invested in fish cages and a 2 hectare fishpond which they thought would make up for the slack in fingerling business during typhoon season when breeding is not suitable. With the fishpond, they started breeding other species of fish like the bighead carp. To help them manage the fishpond, they employed 2 relatives.
The couple also invested in fish cages and a 2 hectare fishpond which they thought would make up for the slack in fingerling business during typhoon season when breeding is not suitable. With the fishpond, they started breeding other species of fish like the bighead carp. To help them manage the fishpond, they employed 2 relatives.
Environmental Concern and Sharing
The introduction of “knife fish” to clean Laguna de Bay, the largest lake in the Philippines was an epic governmental mistake. This variety of fish is carnivorous, highly aggressive, and breeds fast in ponds and fresh waters. The “knife fish” turned out to be a pest rather than a boon because it eats tilapia and milkfish fingerlings thereby affecting the main livelihood of the communities residing along the lake. The affected fishing community started a program to get rid of the knife fish until it was discovered that its meat which is white can be used as raw material for nuggets, siomai, kikiam and burger patties. The government also discovered that it can be used as ingredient for fish meal for tilapia growers.
Catching knife fish opened up a new opportunity for the community but was not for everyone since it needed the use of fishing hooks and live tilapia fingerlings as bait. Fisher folks without a fishing boat and capital to shoulder the expenses could not afford to engage in catching knife fish. The Ditablan couple found this an opportunity to share their blessing with poor local fishermen. They financed and equipped interested fishermen with boat, fish hooks, tilapia fingerlings for bait, gasoline, and other expenses needed for night fishing. They now support 7 bancas with 3 persons manning each boat, to fish for knife fish 3 times a week. Laarni buys their catch and sells it in the Binangonan market with the help of 2 persons (“batilyo”) who do the weighing and delivery.
Sharing their blessing with relatives and the community is a way of life with the Ditablan couple. They sponsor basketball and volleyball teams during summer league by providing for their uniforms. During Christmas, they sponsor a community Christmas party where they give away grocery items, and clothes. The family is respected in the community because of their example and good deeds.
The couple recently opened a new business in mainland Binangonan, Rizal. Renting a vacant establishment, they put up a store selling feed supplies for fish and livestock, and LPG. The business is managed by Laarni with two relatives as helpers. The couple plan to expand the store by adding more commodities such as fishing gears, fishing nets, rice and others. They also intend to expand their fish breeding business.
As a testament to their success, the couple now lives in a dream house, perhaps the biggest in the barangay. They were also able to buy another lot for livestock and storage for their nets and other fishing gears.