TUBA, Benguet – The ladder of success may take time and effort for any manufacturing business, but what matters is… it is possible.
In 1992, an enterprising man established the Kerobee Farms at Barangay Pula, Tuba, Benguet with honey as its main product line. The proprietor, Mr. Romeo Kimbungan, who is described by family and friends as a man who finds quick and clever ways to overcome limitations, left to work as an overseas contract worker when the business was threatened due to financial constraints.
After saving enough capital for about three (3) years, Mr. Kimbungan returned in 1997 to pursue his beekeeping business, doing his own research and experiment in the process.
In 2002, Mr. Kimbungan met another setback when he suffered from a heart valve prolapse that greatly affected his working performance. According to him, the prescribed medications were not working and being the innovative man that he is, Mr. Kimbungan did his own research on how to improve his health condition. He started collecting and using various herbs until he eventually recovered after a year. The positive result on his health resulted to his advocacy for herbal medications as he decided to source out and market herbal teas.
“We tried to sell loose tea, wherein we manually dried and packed herbal leaves and these easily sold out in the market”, Mr. Kimbungan said. Seeing the market potential of this particular enterprise pushed Mr. Kimbungan even further to establish his own organic herbal production.
The Kerobee Farm then expanded its product lines to include organic vegetables and herbal plants in 2008. Organically grown vegetables include lettuce, tomato, cucumber, bell pepper, sugar beets, and beans while herbal plants include lemon grass and yacon. Production of herbs was minimal since these were grown in open field conditions. Moreover, other herbs needed for processing were still being sourced out by the cooperator.
Meanwhile, the Kerobee Farm became a registered member of the La Trinidad Organic Practitioners (LaTOP) Multi-Purpose Cooperative, the marketing center of organic herbal plants, vegetables and processed products. The cooperative was formed to promote organic fresh vegetables and herbal plants. The increasing demand for organic products opened doors for the cooperative not only in the province of Benguet and Baguio City but also in Metro Manila.
The high demand for organic produce challenged the Kerobee farm to increase its production, however, the make-shift technology they use as greenhouse limited the farm’s potential. The greenhouse was made of bamboo and covered with plastic which was easily damaged especially during strong rains and typhoons.
Recognizing that the answer to his problem is the infusion of appropriate technology assistance, Mr. Kimbungan approached the Department of Science and Technology through the Provincial Science and Technology Center- Benguet to avail of the Small Enterprise Technology Upgrading Program (SETUP). Through DOST-SETUP, Kerobee Farm was able to upgrade its greenhouse technology in 2010.
The adoption of the greenhouse farming technology enabled the farm to improve its production efficiency. The firm can now grow crops year-round. Yield is often higher, since the facility can provide optimum growing conditions for the crops. Because protected crops are less susceptible to wind, rain, and hail, the percentage of marketable products is also higher. In fact, the farm’s annual production yield and gross sales increased to a maximum of 342%.
Moreover, rejects from fresh vegetables reduced from 5% to 2%; and damage to crops decreased by 10%. The firm was also able to save 100% on repair and maintenance of the greenhouse.
Mr. Kimbungan, who envisions the Kerobee Farm to be a globally competitive enterprise was not content on crop production alone. He moved a step further when he decided to include tea processing in his business. His background in mechanical engineering was actually used to solve the limitations of sun and air drying. Mr. Kimbungan installed a solar dryer in his farm for pre-drying of herbal leaves and he designed and fabricated his own wood dryer until he eventually came up with a stainless dryer, all of which ensured the optimum quality of his tea processing business.
As a result, the firm now produces processed teas such as banaba, lemon grass, gipah, yacon, guyabano, dandelion, ginger, turmeric, gotokola, strawberry and wheat grass. The tea processing business also enabled the firm to penetrate cooperatives and malls not only in Baguio City and Benguet but also in Quezon City, Manila, Tagaytay, Nueva Vizcaya, and as far as Mindanao.
Consistent with the DOST’s holistic provision of technology interventions, the DOST-CAR continued to provide the necessary technology assistance to the firm through the provision of Nutrifacts analysis for four (4) tea products. Moreover, Mr. Kimbungan was provided with trainings/seminars on Good Manufacturing Practices, HACCP, and ISO. Additionally, the firm is a beneficiary of the MPEX Technical Consultancy Program as well as the improvement of the farm’s packaging materials and label designs.
In 2014, Mr. Kimbungan, as a responsible cooperator graduated from Phase I of the SETUP assistance he availed in 2010. Phase II of DOST’s SETUP assistance was approved on June 19, 2014 with focus on equipment upgrading to introduce innovations in tea packaging. As Mr. Kimbungan said, “I am targeting that every year; there is an innovation in my products for the business not to be left behind. I keep innovating to satisfy the customers and to be globally competitive”.
The years of commitment and integrity in this line of business was duly recognized by various entities. The Kerobee farm was awarded as the Benguet Outstanding Agri- Entrepreneur in 2011; the Regional Gawad Saka Winner for the period 2010-2011; one of the top three national finalists in the Search for Outstanding Agri-Entrepreneur Farmer in 2011; the Benguet Agricultural Achiever in 2013; and the Regional Gawad- Saka Winner in 2014. Just recently, Kerobee Farm was included in the top 3 finalists for the 2014 Best SETUP Adoptor for the 2015 National Science and Technology Week.
At present, the Kerobee Farm continues to increase its product lines. The latest products include honey vinaigrette with herbs (salad dressing), honey calamansi concentrate, herbal wine 7-in-1, honey turmeric drinks with lemon, and even organic lip balm. Likewise, it is starting to establish market outlets in the international market, starting with Canada.
By Cecil C. Guaki