Noble Endeavors Mindanao, Inc. (NEMI), a non-profit based in President Roxas, Cotabato and funded by Global Development group (GDG) of Australia, is working with indigenous people (IP) communities to make goat’s milk.
“It started when I retired as a provincial nurse supervisor in Amas, Kidapawan City and was informed that NEMI was looking for experts on health and agriculture,” Virgie O. Laquihon, NEMI project manager for North Cotabato, told BusinessWorld in an interview.
Ms. Laquihon’s son, a doctor who was part of a team that conducted a medical mission in the area, introduced her to Ian Mckay, GDG managing director.
She said the area, mostly inhabited by Manobos along with Terurays and Muslims, is among the poorest villages in the country and used to be in the top five with the most malnourished children.
The barangay used to have a school set up by GDG with eight teachers, but lack of local government support, particularly in terms of teachers’ salaries, did not make it sustainable.
“We suggested to Mr. Mckay that we should instead just provide a scholarship program for the children and establish an income-generating project,” she said.
With her husband, Generoso A. Laquihon, as agricultural consultant, they put up a goat-raising project in 2014 starting with 10 head that were all pregnant. Within a month’s time, the project was generating extra income from milk.
“The Australians were impressed so they decided to expand the project,” she said.
With a P5 million in financial support from the Australian group, NEMI established the Ethical Harvest Goat’s Milk brand with 200 goats.
NEMI now has a processing plant with modern equipment for milk processing, set up using P2.4 million in financial assistance from the Australian government.
The plant processes an average of 53 liters of milk per day, packaged and sold either fresh or chocolate-flavored.
“We are fully mechanized and we now have 12 outlets in Kidapawan City,” she said.
Ms. Laquihon, also president of the micro, small and medium enterprises group in Cotabato province, wants to expand the brand’s reach by signing up distributors outside the province.
Aside from the goats in the barn, NEMI has also turned over some goats to be raised by the IP families.
“We have eight family raisers and for every family we provide them five goats as part of the dispersal project,” she said, adding that the children in the household are also scholars of the group.
NEMI now assists 257 scholars from the area.
“The Australian group plans to expand the project by putting up a gelato ice cream factory in Davao so that’s extra income for the IP again since the goats milk will be the main material for the ice cream,” she said.
“We are happy that we are able to provide the IP with extra income but our end goal is to encourage the community to become self-supporting and self-determining so they can help the community in alleviating poverty,” she added.