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Aklan MSMEs stand strong despite pandemic

As with other provinces in the country, Aklan was not spared when the COVID-19 pandemic struck the world in late 2019. Making COVID's presence strongly felt in 2020 until now, it brought sickness to many, and deaths too.  It affected Aklan’s booming economy propped up by the agri-tourism thrust of the province, and other local industries that made Aklan well-known not only in the country but throughout the world.

One group that has since propelled Aklan’s local industries to thrive is the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), which are involved in producing various products like woven piña and abaca cloth, gifts and housewares, processed meat and bakery products, native delicacies, “pasalubong” items, and many more - and this group had its share of sufferings when COVID-19 struck.

Some MSMEs closed, some reduced their manpower, while others reduced their production during the pandemic.  In all of these, the most affected were the workers.

There were, however, MSMEs that bravely faced the challenges head-on, continuing to operate, hire people, produce their signature products, and find buyers for these products.

One of these is the Handicraft of Aklan Multi-Purpose Cooperative (HAMPCO), which continued to operate during the trying times caused by COVID-19, standing by its workers, and finding markets for its beautiful products.

According to HAMPCO’s Emelly Lanzon, when COVID-19 struck, the cooperative stopped weaving piña cloth because buyers also stopped ordering.However, the cooperative continued weaving the abaca silk, and during the pandemic, more of the fabric was produced as there were ready buyers from Japan and the United States.

As other MSMEs temporarily stopped operating, their weavers lost their jobs too, and some of them applied at HAMPCO.

Due to the additional weavers, HAMPCO was able to produce in 2021 some 2,000 to 3,000 meters of abaca silk per month, readily bought by a buyer in Manila, which were eventually exported to Japan and the United States of America.

Unique earrings produced by Sheree Reynaldo of Buttons 'n Things, worn by national andd local beauty contest candidates, and seen to be used as embellishments on the native placemats ordered by Rustan's Department Store, according to DTI-Aklan

“In 2021, despite the pandemic, our sales were high. We were only targeting to earn P12 million but our actual sales reached P16 million for abaca silk,” said Lanzon.

In late 2021, however, their buyer from Manila notified them that she will go slow in buying woven abaca silk because she still had plenty of stocks. So from a high of 3,000 meters, Lanzon said the cooperative set to deliver only 1,000 meters per month.

Even then, she said the cooperative took care of their original member-weavers, so they will have a steady source of income.

Asked how much a weaver earns in a month, she said it depends on the speed of the weaver.

“We pay the weaver P200.00 for every meter of cloth she weaves, and there are those who deliver to us 64 meters per month. At P200 per meter, this weaver of 64 meters earns P12,800.00,” Lanzon said.

Through all the challenges the cooperative faced – before and during the pandemic, Lanzon said they have the government to thank for – particularly the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) – for connecting them with buyers, training their workers, and providing them handlooms through the Shared Service Facility (SSF) program of the agency.

The DTI provided HAMPCO 175 handlooms in three tranches since 2014, which enabled the cooperative to produce quality woven products. “These handlooms are all in good working condition,” she said.

Another MSME that thrived during the pandemic is the Buttons ‘n Things, with Sheree Reynaldo as the owner and designer.

She produces novel items like earrings made out of raw materials mostly found in Aklan; face masks made of piña and cotton cloth that figured during national and local beauty pageants for being used by candidates; bracelets, bags, and many more.

She recently participated at the “Bagsakan Trade Fair” organized by the DTI and held in Iloilo City, and her products, requested to be embellished on the abaca placemats produced by Aparicio Agrarian Reform Community (ARC) in Ibajay that impressed a buyer from Rustan’s, will soon be displayed  in that department store in Manila.

Meanwhile, Rose Sauza of Rosa Foods, one of Aklan’s pioneer producers of processed meat and meat products, said that she continued her business in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and now that restrictions have been somehow eased as Aklan is now under Alert Level 1, she said her sales have started picking up.

Her display area is located along the national highway in a Kalibo barangay and according to her, buyers, some passing after vacationing in Boracay, regularly stop to buy meat products from her establishment.

To help other entrepreneurs who are producing non-meat products, she also invited them to display their products like pastries, candies, and other pasalubong items in her store, so that like her, they could start earning gradually and rise from the challenges caused by the pandemic. (JBG/VGV/PIA6 Aklan)

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Venus Villanueva

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Region 6

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