FACING UP TO THE CHALLENGE
“If a farmer is poor, then so is the whole country.”
So goes a Polish proverb that has its own relevance in the Philippines. For a country so blessed with diversity of natural resources, it is ironic that our farmers remain to be among the poorest in our society. Year on year, our farmers make decisions based on resources available to them, and keeping a watchful eye on increasingly erratic weather patterns. It’s no surprise, then, that we are slowly losing the battle of numbers: for every year that passes, our farmers get older and smaller in quantity. Most of their children opt for city jobs in factories or call centers where the financial rewards are perceived as better felt and easier achieved.
Farming as a Profession of Hope
However, for every farmer that gives up, there are a number of farmers who still choose to hope. Even with the odds stacked up against them and their community, they seek opportunities to change the one thing that they are in full control of — their mindset. That is why Jollibee Group Foundation (JGF) endeavored to find a way to help change mindsets of Filipino farmers. Together with partners, JGF established the Farmer Entrepreneurship Program (FEP) in 2008 which assists farmers increase their productivity potential, and earn more for their labor.
Michael Regencia of the Caoayan Onion Growers Multipurpose Cooperative from Caoayan, Ilocos Sur is one of the partners under the program. He shares that being a farmer in these uncertain times can be challenging. “As a farmer, life is difficult. I never had a formal education. I used to be very reserved and did not want to talk to people. I never would have thought that I would become an officer in a group, let alone manage a cooperative,” said Regencia.
The cooperative he speaks of was one formed with his fellow onion farmers by the Nueva Segovia Consortium of Cooperatives (NSCC) in partnership with JGF. Registered as the Caoayan Onion Growers Cooperative, Michael and his colleagues went through a series of trainings where they learned business skills, product pricing and linking with the right markets. “As a cooperative, we now own and manage all the operations. We have benefits and access to resources like seeds, fertilizer and other farming technologies that would be difficult to get if we were working individually as farmers,” he added.
Given the small size of the lands that they individually farm, the group discovered that the power of collective marketing has given them the opportunity to earn more as a cooperative. The strength they found in numbers also gave them the opportunity not only to consolidate their produce but also to put their heads together and visualize how to enrich their productivity. When before, most of the farmers in the area would plant crops with no clear plan, they now understand the value of a logical farm plan and a viable business plan. “We used to plant crops based on what seemed to be selling for high prices in the market, even if we didn’t have sure buyers.” Removing the guesswork from their jobs has given them the confidence that they are now more in control of their fate. “FEP didn’t teach us just how to be good farmers, but how to be businessmen. Best of all, it gave us a steady market for our products,” Michael happily shared.
JGF took it a step further in 2016 by developing the FEP Leadership for Agro-enterprise Development (LeAD). Twenty-two farmer-leaders and members from eleven partner farmer groups that directly supplied to JFC were tapped to become “fellows.” They took part in activities geared towards developing their leadership and entrepreneurial potential in the hope that they will apply their enhanced skills for their personal and organizational growth. Another FEP partner, Richard Sabdao of the Mayon Farmers Association from Camalig, Albay shared, “The most important lesson I learned from LeAD is the formation of a leader to inspire his group and perform with excellence.” The biggest goal of the program is to create their own Action Learning Project (ALP) which they themselves should design, implement and evaluate. Their ALPs should aim to develop their organization’s sustainability and growth. But it doesn’t end there.
“Beyond the program, we envision that the fellows will form a network of farmer leaders who support each other and champion the idea of farming as an enterprise,” says Ms. Grace Tan Caktiong, the President of JGF. As part of the program’s culmination, JGF recognized the Fellows’ hard work and accomplishments on January 19, 2017 in EDSA Shangri-la Hotel. “We hope to celebrate with them as they mark the end of their LeAD journey,” she adds.
It seems then that success really starts with the right mindset. Hopefully, valuing our farmers’ work and appreciating how our daily survival depends on their good welfare encourage the support it deserves from more institutions. The success of farmers like Michael and Richard can become the norm. “As a farmer, the FEP program has made a big impact on my life. In terms of my livelihood, I see that we are continuously improving. I know that I can now give a better future to my children especially through education,” Michael shared.
If we can hear these words more often from our Filipino farmers, maybe then we have better hope of a sustainable livelihood for our smallholder farmers and ensuing food security for all.
Click here to know more about the Farmer Entrepreneurship Program.