In the picturesque bay of Barangay Sta. Ana, Calatagan, Batangas, a group of resilient women is making waves in the local fishing industry. Meet the Samahan ng Kababaihang Mangingisda ng Sitio Manuel Uy (SKSMU), a thriving People’s Organization (PO) established in 2019 with the mission to not only make a living out of seaweeds but also to promote sustainable practices in the coastal and marine ecosystem.

Supported by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) CALABARZON, SKMSMU operates under the Biodiversity-Friendly Enterprise (BDFE) Project within the Verde Island Passage as part of the Coastal and Marine Ecosystem Management Program (CMEMP). Comprising 11 dedicated female members, the organization has become a beacon of success in the region.

BDFEs, as envisioned by DENR, are enterprises that champion the sustainable use of biological resources, create wealth and value, and foster equitable sharing of benefits among stakeholders. SKMSMU has embraced this vision, focusing on the production of seaweed crackers and chips delicacies that have gained popularity not just within the community but beyond.

The delectable seaweed crackers and chips with optional flavors (plain, cheese, barbecue, and sour cream) are sold at affordable prices, ranging from 40-50 pesos per piece.

This has not only contributed to the community's delight but has also translated into a significant profit for the PO.

Ms. Rosaly Acosta, the passionate president of SKMSMU, attests to the transformative impact of the BDFE Project. She states, "Malaki ang naitulong ng BDFE sa aming People’s Organization…Ang aming kinikita po ay nakakatulong na makabili ng aming pangangailangan tulad ng bigas at pang-ulam."

However, SKMSMU recognizes the need for continuous improvement and development. Through the valuable assistance of the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) in Calaca, Batangas, the PO has undergone various training programs in Marketing Management, Packaging and Labeling Products, Organizational Structure Strengthening, Pricing, Bookkeeping, and Product Development. Ms. Umali highlights the importance of enhancing their skills “insert direct quote from PO president”

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DENR CALABARZON's Conservation and Development Division has been instrumental in providing ongoing support to strengthen the People’s Organization. The offerings of the PO took center stage at multiple regional and national events, including the 4th Philippine Environmental Summit and the Local Food Bazaar hosted by DENR CALABARZON in 2023. These exhibitions played a crucial role in promoting the products of BDFE POs, assisting the SKMSMU in effectively marketing their products.

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Currently, SKMSMU is at level 1 development based on the monitoring conducted by CENRO Calaca and transitioning into level 2, showcasing the positive strides made in terms of organizational growth and sustainability. At the moment, the production of the PO operates on a made-to-order system. To expand their production, the PO is in need of additional equipment.

Akin to many other entities, SKMSMU encountered obstacles in its organizational structure. These challenges have led to a temporary halt in the organization's production. Taking charge in addressing these issues is DENR CENRO Calaca, actively extending support to the PO in resolving the current predicament. Upon successful resolution, SKMSMU is poised to resume its regular operations.

As SKMSMU continues to navigate the waters of economic empowerment and environmental stewardship, their story stands as a testament to the transformative impact that grassroots initiatives can have on communities. Through the synergy of dedicated women, government support, and a commitment to sustainability, SKMSMU is not just a fishing organization; it is a beacon of hope and progress for Barangay Sta. Ana and beyond. ###