Vegetable farmer Elma Gabriel is proud of her big, calloused hands. The multiple and crisscrossing lines not only show proof of hard work, but also speak of her long, arduous journey towards becoming a successful micro-entrepreneur.     

Everyday, the mother of nine wakes up at 3 a.m. to cook food for 55 people who work in her 10-hectare farm in Bayambang, Pangasinan. Before the sun is up, she’s already hard at work on the field. She goes home to cook lunch and is back to work by 3 p.m. She religiously follows this schedule 24/7, 365 days a year – no holidays, no vacation.

Her hard work has been paying off. In the 1970s when she was planting tobacco, she could barely make ends meet. Today, she harvests by the truckloads. She could even buy a car on a good season, but Nanay Elma is not the type to splurge.

“Let’s say I get a van. Eventually, it will rust and I will no longer be able to use it. Now if I buy another hectare of land, the benefits will be long term. Its value will not depreciate over time,” she says. “Make your money work for you. Invest on something that will make more money.”

This financial savvy, combined with keen business acumen, were the traits that TSPI saw when it approved her application for a P5,000 loan in 2002. A reluctant borrower at first, Nanay Elma started small with a sari-sari store.

With renewed drive, she got the confidence to borrow more as she continues to expand her business. No longer content with her mom-and-pop operations, Nanay Elma set her sights farther in 2005 when she ventured into the agricultural business. She bought a 1.5-hectare farmland, which she planted with onion, rice and corn. To boost her capital even more, she sold processed meat products on the side.

Today, her annual sales reach more than P2 million. A testament to her success, she won the 2010 Citi Microentrepreneur of the Year Maunlad Category.  (You may click on this video link: Nanay Elma on YouTube watch?v=BfNIUb1wpm4 )

But most prized among her crops are her red onions, which allowed her to acquire more land. “They can be really difficult to farm. You have to take care of them. You have to check everything everyday. You can’t let your workers do that for you; you have to do it yourself,” she says of her onions. She even sings to them and chides them about growing up strong amid pests and abrupt weather changes.

She is grateful for TSPI for giving workshops, which she pays forward by sharing her own experiences to those who are just starting out. She attends other workshops as well, always on the lookout for the next brilliant business idea.

For Nanay Elma, TSPI has become more than a lifeline. She treasures the friendly professional relationships she had built with its people. And whenever she’s in need of extra capital, TSPI is always there. Twenty-five cycles later, her repayment rate is still a spotless 100%.

Asked when she plans to retire, the bubbly 51-year-old says she will work as long as she can. She rarely takes a break, and now she’s even contemplating on putting up a junkshop to occupy her time during the rainy season. She likes doing business because it lets her help other people – be it relatives or neighbors. She also hopes to give her children a stable future.

Right now, Nanay Elma remains grateful for every good harvest. Her blessings come in the form of onions as big as fists sprouting from the ground. “I have never seen them as big as this. They’re beautiful!” she says, holding up her precious produce like a hard-earned prize.

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