By Henrylito D. Tacio
People who have been working for more than four decades are looking forward to their retirement. As author Bruce Linton said, “We work all our lives so we can retire – so we can do what we want with our time – and the way we define or spend our time defines who we are and what we value.”
But sad to say, most people don’t have plans when retirement comes. They liken themselves to the leading character in Alice in Wonderland, in which the cat tells her that she will get somewhere as long as she walks long enough.
Fortunately, there are people who plan out their retirement even before they reach their retirement age. That’s what Giovanni and Jeaneth Conde did. When they were in their 40s, they decided to quit working in another country and return to the Philippines to start the next chapters of their lives.
The couple, both nurses, worked in Saudi Arabia for a few years before migrating to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where they were employed in one of its biggest government companies for two decades.
As they were in their twenties then, they didn’t worry about money. They had plenty of it. When they returned to the Philippines for a vacation, they spent their money here and there. “I bought branded shoes,” Giovanni said. “Same here with me,” Jeaneth. “If I fancy a beautiful bag, I immediately buy it.”
They ended this kind of life only when the couple accumulated a huge debt from their credit cards. It was a wake-up call for the couple. That was the time they started saving money for their future.
So, when they vacationed again in the Philippines, the couple bought a two-hectare property which was planted to rice in San Isidro, a barangay of Magsaysay, Davao del Sur. This was in 2010. Three years later, they bought another piece of land, about three hectares, in New Clarin, a barangay of Bansalan, Davao del Sur.
As the land in New Clarin was a coconut farm, the couple thought of raising ducks. After all, balut is very popular in Bansalan. “I know the basics of duck raising since my parents were raising ducks when I was still a little girl,” Jeaneth recalled. “My father was also into the business of buying duck eggs from the farmers and processing them into balut.”
They bought 1,000 ducklings, of which only 600 made it. “Some died during the travel while others perished during the growing stage,” Jeaneth said.
Since they were still working abroad, they hired someone to take care of the duck project. They were excited when they received the news that the ducks were already producing eggs. They processed the eggs into balut and sold them in the market. They also built a balut house, the very first in Bansalan. But as months went by, they noticed that they spent more and the income was not profitable as they expected it to be.
The couple also invested about P400,000 to start piggery with Giovanni’s brother as partner in New Clarin. But, like the duck project, it, too, failed. The reason: African swine fever. The place was one of those affected by the epidemic and so they had to put all their pigs to death.
In the meantime, a healthy baby girl came into their lives in 2015. After two years, the couple decided they would not bring up their daughter, Ellizah Gioneth, in the UAE. They also thought of migrating to Canada but at the last minute, they agreed to raise their daughter in the Philippines.
Because of this new development, the couple decided to settle in the Philippines. Besides, they were not getting any younger. It was at this time that they reached an agreement to retire from working abroad.
In 2018, Jeaneth filed for early retirement and came home with her daughter. She started settling in their home in Davao City. She went to her parents’ place in Bansalan, Davao del Sur every now and then. But as her daughter was getting bigger, she decided to stay in Bansalan.
“I really had a hard time adjusting,” Jeaneth said. “My life in Bansalan is very different from what I used to have when I was in the UAE. I have to learn to haggle. I have to go to the market early, particularly when buying vegetables, meat, and fish, or else I won’t be able to get the things I really wanted.”
Giovanni also filed an early retirement from his job and was supposed to follow her. But then, the Covid-19 pandemic happened. He couldn’t do anything as it was prohibited to travel. He stayed in the UAE and continued working.
In 2020, when it was okay to travel, Giovanni returned to the Philippines. In the first few months, the couple were in a quandary. What would they do now that they were already retired. Where would they get their source of income once the savings they had, would be exhausted?
From eatery to farming
They started by opening a small eatery. But instead of making them relax, as they were already retired, it gave them stress. They had to wake up early to cook. They could not just close the eatery if they wanted to go out since they had already bought all the materials for cooking.
So one night, Giovanni asked his father-in-law what they should do. “Why not go into farming?” he suggested. As it happened, the brother of his wife, Geoffrey Igagamao, was also interested in farming. “Why don’t we develop the abandoned farm which we inherited from our parents?” Geoffrey said.
Geoffrey was referring to the land located in Balnate, a barangay of Magsaysay, Davao del Sur. It is about a 10-minute ride by vehicle from the town proper. They decided to grow dragon fruits, then unheard of in the area.
While the land which Geoffrey inherited was in the lower part, the one which Jeaneth and Giovanni got was located in an upland area. There were few mangoes but mostly grown trees and shrubs.
Giovanni hired three men to help him clean the two-hectare inherited land. After two weeks, it was ready for farming. He placed cemented posts in the property until 300 posts occupied the whole farm. He planted four dragon fruits per post in March 2021.
Fortunately, Giovanni enjoyed farming. “Farming is really new to me because I grew up in the coastal area of Leyte although my wife used to live on the farm in her younger years,” he said.
Unlike his previous job as a registered nurse, he finds farming different. “Operating a farm business requires perseverance and self-motivation,” he admitted. He also learned his lessons from previous failure, when they raised ducks and pigs.
Aside from the dragon fruit orchard, the couple also maintains the rice and coconut farms. “We visit the orchard three times a week,” he said, adding that they have already built a house on the top of the farm where they could stay. “We only do phone calls in other farms with little supervision since we have a trusted person.”
A year after planting the dragon fruits, the couple started literally harvesting the fruits of their labor. “In the beginning, we harvested only 10 kilograms,” Jeaneth said. “But after a month, we were able to harvest 170 kilograms, until we harvested about 300 kilograms in the succeeding months.”
This year, the harvests have more than doubled than the previous year. “We used to sell our dragon fruits in Davao City,” Giovanni said. “But lately, we notice the sales here in our town are getting better since they already know the health benefits of dragon fruits.”
According to him, they encounter a few problems in growing dragon fruits like unpredictable weather and few diseases. “But we manage to control them,” he pointed out.
Right now, they are expanding their orchard. They have added 230 more posts. They will also buy some goats, whose house will occupy the vacant and lower portion of the farm.
The couple is also thinking of making the farm as a tourism spot. “We are thinking of having a ‘harvest and pay’ system. Visitors can come and harvest the fruits they want and just pay for the fruits they have harvested,” Jeaneth said.
Now, talking like a nurse, Giovanni said, “Farming and our previous work seem to go together. “We always do prevention of diseases. We treat our plants just like a patient.”
Now that they have retired from being nurses, they continue to practice their skills by doing volunteer work. Their advice to other overseas Filipino workers who want to go home but are afraid of where to get a sustainable source of income is that they should think otherwise.
“There is life after working abroad,” Jeaneth said. “Be sure to invest your money here in the Philippines while you are working abroad. That way, when you retire, you will already have a source of income.”