Monday, April 13, 2015

Why Telecom Executive Chose to be an Agri-preneur

An information technology expert, who graduated magna cum laude from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines in 1989, retired at the age of 39 in 2004 as a vice president of a telecommunication company to pursue his passion for agri-tourism.  Today, his six-hectare organic farm in Laguna province employs 120 workers and is considered one of the country’s most popular agri-tourism sites.
“I was tired and burned-out of the very stressful life in the corporate world. I managed to escape the corporate life at the age of 39 by availing an early retirement plan from the company in 2004. I just thought that engaging into organic agriculture and healthier lifestyle will somehow prolong our lives and spend more quality time with my family,” says 48-year-old Ronald Costales
Costales and his wife Josephine own Costales Nature Farms, a six-hectare integrated farm in Barangay Gagalot, Majayjay, Laguna, which is the largest single producer of certified organic vegetables, culinary herbs, organic pork and chicken in the country.
Josephine is a former owner of Cyberworld, a chain of Internet cafes in Laguna. The couple have two children--Reden Mark, a graduate of De La Salle University - Dasmariñas who is currently the farm manager and Angelica, who studies at the University of the Philippines - Los Baños and works as the marketing manager of the farm.
Costales, who grew up in Umingan, Pangasinan, used to be the head of the IT and engineering department of a large telecommunications company in Makati. He took up Bachelor in Computer Science and graduated magna cum laude from PUP in 1989.
“Since I came from a very poor family, I studied in a public school in my elementary and high school days, and in my college days, I worked as a security guard during daytime and a college scholar during nighttime. I dreamt of becoming a corporate guy working in an air-conditioned room with very nice office attire,” Costales says.
After working in an air-conditioned office for more than a decade, he discovered that there was a better working environment out there.
Today, Costales is a proud organic farming practitioner and a staunch advocate of organic agriculture, an agri -technology innovator, a self-sacrificing extension service provider and an astute agri-entrepreneur.
He is a board member representing the agribusiness/private sector in the National Organic Agriculture Board, the policy-making body of organic agriculture in the country.
Among the awards he received are most inspiring agri-preneur in the Philippines from Go Negosyo, most outstanding community enterprise in the Philippines from the Villar Sipag Foundation, most outstanding son of Pangasinan from the Pangasinan provincial government and most outstanding organic farmer of the Philippines from Gawad Saka.
Costales was also named the most outstanding professional of the Philippines and the outstanding Philippines organic agriculturist.
Costales says he ventured into organic farming, after realizing that he was tired of being in the corporate world.  “I started the business as a hobby by planting chemical-free fruits, vegetables, organic poultry and livestock for family consumption in 2005.  We love to eat so we decided to produce our own food. These are safe and healthy food,” Costales says.
He says with an initial seed capital of P250,000 in 2005, the farm started on a very small area of 1,000 square meters. The farm now covers 6 hectares and has 120 employees.

“After learning the nitty-gritty part of organic agriculture by attending crash courses [from Agricultural Training Institute] and abroad [Saraburi, Thailand], we went commercial in 2009 by supplying organic  high-value vegetables and culinary herbs to hotels and restaurants in Metro Manila,” he says.
After a successful stint as a prime producer of certified organic food, Costales opened the farm to the public to become the first agri-tourism destination in the country, accredited by the Tourism Department.
Costales Nature Farms offers certified organic vegetables, culinary herbs, organic pork and chicken, processed meat (organic lucban longganisa) and organic feeds for livestock. As an accredited partner of Agricultural Training Institute, it also provides technical and business training on diversified organic agriculture and agri-tourism courses.
“Costales Nature Farms is a private extension service provider of ATI. As a technical resource speaker of Asian Productivity Organization or APO, we also conduct training on agri-tourism development to other Asean countries,” says Costales.
“As an accredited partner of DOT, we also offer different farm tourism packages to local and foreign tourists ranging from half-day lakbay aral tours to three days wellness tours,” he says.
Costales says the seeds used in the farm are being supplied by Allied Botanical, Eastwest, Ramgo and Harbest. “The organic feeds for livestock are being formulated and mixed in-house. Piglets are from own sows. Day-old chicks are from F1 Farmers Choice and we own production of fertilized eggs,” he says.
Costales says being an entrepreneur was not his first career option.  Despite the success in the agri-tourism business, Costales says there are a lot of challenges along the way.
“Technical skills are the initial challenges and were addressed by attending trainings and seminars. People management was likewise a challenge since managing blue-collar staff is quite different from managing white-collar employees,” he says.
“I used to manage remotely in the telco and IT industries but these were not applicable in agriculture.  Agriculture and agri-tourism are full-time hands-on job. I learned that the best fertilizer is the owner’s footprints in the farm,” he says.
Costales says his biggest accomplishments are making farming more appealing through agri-tourism and spurring economic development in the town of Majayjay, which became the model of progressive agriculture and tourism farming of the country.
Despite his busy schedule, Costales says he always makes sure he spends quality time with his family.  “On weekdays, I do farm works, conduct training, prepare proposals, plan the company direction, attend NOAB meetings, and meet with my staff. But on weekends, I enjoy precious time with my family,” Costales says.
He says his family serves as his inspiration to work harder.  “My wife, Josie, my son Redz, my daughter, Angel and her angel, Rion Isabel are the people who influence me the most. I am also inspired by people who are continuously inspired by following our footprints,” Costales says.
Costales says he hopes to expand the services offered by their farm to include facilities for accommodation and spa.  He also plans to extend the production of organic produce to cooperator farmers in the community and help small farmers gain access to both local and foreign markets.
“I hope that organically grown food will become the mainstream in the next five years.  Majority of food producers will shift to organic agriculture production.  I want the Philippines to become the major supplier of organic food exported abroad and for agri-tourism sites to become the preferred tourist destinations for both local and foreign visitors,” Costales says.
“In five years time, I also hope that Costales Nature Farms will continue to be the leader in the field of organic agriculture production and agri-tourism.  It will also expand its operation by opening up chains of organic fastfood storefronts that will be affordable,  making safe and healthy food available to everyone,” he says.
Costales says good management style and hard work hold the key to success. “Lead by example. Work as a team player. Work hard to reach your dreams. There is no substitute for hard work and always remember that kingdoms are won by armies, while empires are made by great alliances,” Costales says.
He advised those who have similar passion in the field of agriculture and tourism “to be our partners and join our venture programs to make farming more sexy again.”
“Help us in feeding the nation with safe and healthy food. Let us unite to fight poverty and hunger,” Costales says.

Written by: Anna Leah E. Gonzales


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Author & Editor - The Philippines' First and Only Web Magazine on Organic Farming.

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