The champion of the modern Philippine agriculture revolution, a visionary and staunch advocate of agriculture best technology and practices. This is how Dr. Milagros Ong-How is regarded by the mass media and the agriculture sector in general, she has become synonymous with pioneering initiatives aimed at uplifting the general welfare of the Filipino farmer-family.
A BS Biology student of the University of the Philippines Diliman, she has always wanted to be a medical doctor then, but fate opened a different door for her. She was only 19 when she started doing chemical trading business with her mother. Through years of hard work and perseverance, her business became the leading chemical manufacturer and distributor in the country.
For 43 years, she surrounded herself with brilliant minds, mentors and loyal colleagues. Dr. How aggressively invested her time and energy in venturing into new projects, looking at the future and leading the flock with minute details in every step.
Now, she’s the matriarch of the Universal Harvester Group of companies, owner of various industries in chemical; fiberglass; shipping; food and restaurant; and in the last 15 years where Universal Harvester, Inc. has become the flagship enterprise, the group is massively expanding in the Agriculture industry, Organic & Inorganic Fertilizer; Dairy Production of fresh milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, butter, etc.; Livestock Feed Plant such as Total Mixed Ration (TMR and Concentrates); Rice Milling and Trading; Agriculture Information Technology Applications; Meat Processing; Agriculture Machineries; and recently, the group began exploring the Movie Film Production; Drinking Water Treatment Plant; Renewable Energy Plant on Solar, Wind and Hydropower; Activated Carbon Plant; And docks/ports.
Under the leadership of Dr. How, the chemical enterprise maintained its stature over the years, increasing its production annually as it meets the growing demand of the industry, building more facilities every year. The shipping business slowly increasing its fleet to now 17 chemical tankers, 3 dry bulk, 5 LPG tanker, 8 oil tankers and 16 tugboats. In the food and restaurant business, a new store opened recently in Laguna.
In a little over 10 years, Dr. How paved the way for Universal Harvester, Inc., to become the leader in the Fertilizer distribution in the Philippines. Creating more distribution points which now includes 12 unloading ports, 4 manufacturing plant and 38 warehouses across the country. Supplying a complete line of organic and inorganic fertilizer products in the Philippines, other Asian countries and in Latin America while maintaining a Quality Management System certified by, and compliant with ISO standards.
The love for the Filipino Farmers and her genuine concern for the agriculture industry moved Dr. How when she heeded the call of the Dairy industry last June 2015. In an unprecedented pace, Dr. How developed a 456ha. ordinary barren land in the heart of Mindanao to a state-of-the-art dairy production facility, the largest in the Philippines.
And in the past 6 months, Universal Harvester Group headed by Dr. How, forged numerous undertakings with Japanese and Chinese Business Giants on new distribution model/channels, Drinking Water Treatment Plant, Renewable Energy Plant, and Activated Carbon Plant.
Overall, the group employs around 2,000 personnel, sustained relationships with a nationwide network of more than 6,500 farmers’ cooperatives and associations, and translating that relationship to help 8.4 million farmers to maximize the benefits of the company’s products, services and assistance.
She is known to be a maverick, unorthodox and always thinking out of the box. She is comfortable working with professionals who understand her style, she wants her team to know how the business should work, how she expects them to pro-act and react in different business situation, anticipate and make good judgement at their level. One must achieve the necessary business acumen, endurance and attitude to pass her “average” standard.
Correspondingly, Dr. How maintains a unique incentive and penalty system. Generous enough to make one want to do it better next time, and if in an unfortunate circumstance of being penalized, such is clearly understood that everyone is a stakeholder, not to commit mistakes at the expense of the company. Pushing the envelope to strive for continuous improvement, “every year, we must raise the bar!”, as Dr. How always say, referring to the projects we undertake.
Dr. How always remembers her mother’s advice, “ensure that you build true stakeholders and loyal clientele while you share the fruits and blessings of your enterprise with others.” She added one dimension to this. She made sure that the business process results not just in success measured by the traditional parameters of business performance. For her, the true measure is happiness and satisfaction of her customers, partners and stakeholders. She does all this with her personal touch. Surprisingly in a gargantuan effort. Dr. How personally attends and visits to meet customers, partners and acquaintances to present gifts and token for every occasion, virtually to all that she comes across in her day to day routine. It’s literally Christmas everyday with Dr. How.
In a remarkable way, Dr. How initiated projects never seen in the agriculture industry. Beginning 2012, she led a nationwide private sector recognition system for “The Outstanding Farmers of the Philippines (tofarm.org)”, granting numerous awards to achievers in the agriculture sector. She also funded a research on cassava and maize site specific nutrition management with the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI) where harvest can easily yield at least 300% more. She is also propagating a computer application (A Farm Story) with Japan company E-supportlink, Ltd., for farmer use to improve their productivity, knowledge sharing and directly connections to buyers. After the onslaught of typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), she immediately responded to help by launching the “Back-To-Farm” project which eventually became the “Adopt-a-Farmer” program aimed at providing free farm inputs to calamity stricken or poor agriculture communities until they can become sustainable again. On its second year, the first ever TOFARM Film Festival, a festival of films about farmers, agriculture and the bounties of nature. Now for her most recent venture, the 1st TOFARM songwriting competition with a theme “planting the seeds of change”. There is more, alongside these national projects, Dr. How under the banner of the Universal Harvester Group, put in place programs and systems to help farmers improve farm productivity, protect and preserve the quality of their soils, and improve their standards of living. Among these are training programs, study tours to help them engage and learn new technologies; on-site assistance for better farm input applications; and exploring integrated farming like high value crops, dairy and new business opportunities to augment their income during lean months.
The direction for the future includes the development of more relevant products for the farmers. The company initiated market studies and preparatory development of network and business alliance to support value chain enterprises and franchise “one- stop-shops” with a Japanese International Brand/Firm. This will support the farmers’ aspiration for an integrated and complete line of reasonably-priced farm inputs, the product line is being expanded to include seeds, farm implements, crop and life insurance, and other post-harvest facilities.
To support the need for an efficient value chains, Dr. How sets her vision at implementing a Commodities Exchange Program to serve as nucleus for agricultural commodity trading and will connect producers and users of agricultural commodities through origination, processing, marketing, and distribution capabilities and services. It will give opportunities to small and medium sized farms to become commercial enterprises and subsistence farmers to enter commercial production.
In Dr. How’s appointment as the ambassador to the Philippines by the International Fertilizer Association, a global network of fertilizer manufacturers/distributors. Dr. How is already working on new opportunities for the Universal Harvester Group to expand its market and build new value chain business locally and abroad.