To protect the rich cultural heritage of the rice terraces in Ifugao, a group of young farmers is trying to revive the production of Japanese loach in their community.
Recently, there has been an increasing demand for Japanese loach, locally known as “yuyu,” in the town of Am-iyong in Hungduan, Ifugao. Responding to this call, the team of Josephine Guimangal, Lovely Joy Paddapad, and John Mark Daping established a business they coined “Am-Iyoung’s Yuyu Farm,” which was also their entry for the Young Farmers’ Challenge (YFC) 2022 competition of the Department of Agriculture (DA).
The trademark name “Am-Iyoung” is a wordplay of “Am-iyong” and “young,” which means “young farmers of yuyu from Am-iyong.” The trio touts the enterprise as “the one and only yuyu project in the province,” which aims to produce sustainable and organic yuyu for consumption and propagation.
“We chose yuyu as our enterprise to bring back the extinct yuyu in our municipality and to address the high demands for yuyu fingerlings. [The enterprise] also aims to increase the productivity and income of rice farmers,” Guimangal said.
Yuyu has become an important part of indigenous rice farming and aquaculture in the Cordillera Administrative Region. Also known as jojo, panispis, or pikaw in some places, it has become notably abundant after the Japanese occupation and has become a major source of fish protein in the region, particularly in many areas beyond the reach of fresh fish from the coasts.
This freshwater fish prefers muddy substrates and a subtropical climate (between 5 and 25°C). Therefore, it is no surprise that yuyu has found an ideal home in the rice terraces of the Cordilleras and has been practically a carefree aquaculture species, fully integrated with the organic farming practices in the region over several decades.
“Since yuyu is purely organic, we also use organic materials, such as weeds, as their feeds. We also employ traditional methods of harvesting such as fish traps. This way, it won’t hurt the yuyu, the farm, and the biodiversity—unlike using electric shocks or poison,” Guimangal explained.
However, the introduction of some freshwater species and some changes in farming practices are believed to have contributed much to the decline and seem to threaten the survival of these fishes in the rice fields.
The team’s efforts to restore yuyu, coupled with their one-of-a-kind business model canvas (BMC), helped them bag the YFC National Level Competition championship, making them one of the 12 Outstanding Youth Agribusiness Models in the Philippines. They received the award during the 2nd National Young Farmers Summit and Awarding Ceremony last December 15, 2022, at Laoag City in Ilocos Norte.
“We feel blessed and honored. Of all the contenders, our enterprise was chosen to be one of the winners,” Guimangal expressed.
Despite their efforts, Guimangal admitted that the scarcity of yuyu is still their problem. When they were starting to establish their business, they needed to go to other municipalities just to order yuyu fingerlings.
“It’s really an effort because we need to wait for the yuyu suppliers to produce the number of fingerlings that we are asking,” Guimangal narrated.
“After the implementation [of the project], we also had a problem with the water source that is always being cut off. That’s why we always make sure that there is a continuous flow of water,” Guimangal added.
Regardless, the farming of yuyu for them is easy since the practice has been passed down to them by their elders.
“Back then, our parents would just leave and let the yuyu propagate in the rice fields. What we are trying to do now is to use a dedicated land as cultivation site. In that way, we can closely monitor and take care of the yuyu fingerlings,” Guimangal described.
Ifugao’s municipality of Hungduan is a tourist site. Besides Banaue, they are also famous for their scenic and sprawling rice terraces. With this, the team envisions making their yuyu farm an agri-tourism site where the visitors could experience catching yuyu.
“Through this, we can increase the income of the municipality and food establishment owners within the municipality by attracting tourists who want to taste and purchase yuyu, and those who want to experience catching yuyu the traditional way,” Guimangal said.
With the P100,000 grant from YFC provincial-level competition, plus an additional P30,000 out of their pockets, they were able to convert a 200-square meter idle land into a propagation site that houses around 500 to 700 fingerlings. Likewise, they also received P150,000 during the regional-level competition.
Now, with the additional P300,000 grant from YFC national competition, the team plans to expand their enterprise to meet the constant demands of yuyu fingerlings in the community.
Through this competition, the team received a total financial grant of P550,000.
“We will expand our farm into a yuyu breeding site, purchase needed materials—like incubators—in order to sustain our yuyu farm and increase our production, and sell it to those who want to propagate yuyu for their own consumption and as a source of income for the future,” Guimangal said.
Ultimately, they are encouraging other aspiring young agri-preneurs to be persistent in achieving their goals for the success of their business.
“We must focus on our goals. Determine what would be the problems of our business and find a solution as soon as possible. It may not be easy in the beginning, but soon we’ll learn how to grow the business,” Guimangal said.
Through the years, there have been some efforts by the government to ramp up the production of yuyu. During the first Yuyu Congress in 2008, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Ifugao allocated some P300,000 for yuyu production projects. The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources–Cordillera (BFAR-CAR), on the other hand, granted the province P200,000 for the establishment of a loach hatchery.
Likewise, BFAR-CAR, with funding from Bayanihan to Recover as One (Bayanihan 2), is currently building a hatchery and training center for yuyu production in Mayoyao, Ifugao. With the project, about 300 to 350 fisherfolks in Mayoyao and its neighboring towns will be trained with loach breeding to achieve a projected annual production of 500,000 to 1 million fingerlings. The construction of the said facility began in 2021.
With a steep market price of P1,400 per kilo, these initiatives would make yuyu affordable to everyone, while at the same time, preserving Ifugao’s rich culture and tradition. By JBPeralta