Reaping what they sow, the members of KALASAG Farmers Producers Cooperative in San Jose City, Nueva Ecija was recently granted a Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certificate by the Department of Agriculture (DA) and Bureau of Plant and Industry (BPI) for white onions, confirming that the cooperative ensures food quality and safety.
The GAP standards enable farmers to address different aspects of on-farm production and post-production processes that result in safe and quality agricultural products. It covers food safety, consistent quality produce, worker’s health, safety and welfare, and environmental management.
BPI inspected KALASAG farms last February for GAP qualification. A month after, BPI and DA qualified 41 KALASAG farmers for the GAP certification. “We told them that GAP certification is just simple, they just need to be more careful when it comes to the safety of their products. The farmers were very optimistic about it even though it seemed impossible for them at first. In fact, they are the first cooperative in the country to receive GAP certificates,” said DA Region III GAP Inspector Angel Tulabut.
“We are happy to be regarded as ‘Certified GAP Farmers’. Our market will surely expand and we can now enter the international market because we already met the standards,” said KALASAG member Ferdinand Gomez of the certification.
Of this, KALASAG General Manager Wencelito Gomez explained, “We hope this serves as an inspiration to other farmer groups. The GAP accreditation will help improve their farming practices and their lives. We hope that the day will come when all farmers will have improved lives. And we thank Jollibee Group Foundation for helping us reach our dreams.”
Bridging the GAP
KALASAG is one of the first partners of Jollibee Group Foundation (JGF) in its Farmer Entrepreneurship Program (FEP), which aims to help smallholder farmers achieve a more sustainable livelihood and increase their income by linking them to the supply chain of institutional markets like Jollibee Foods Corporation (JFC). KALASAG has been regularly supplying white onions to JFC since 2009. In 2016, KALASAG delivered close to 500 metric tons of white onions to the food service company.
KALASAG learned about GAP through JGF and decided to make GAP accreditation one of their main projects. “JGF helped us through trainings on leadership and agro-enterprise, and giving us an option for a sure market. We are also able to use all the knowledge that we learned from FEP in our transactions with other institutional buyers and get more opportunities that help us and our community“, said KALASAG Chairman Arnold Dizon.
JGF has been implementing FEP since 2008 and has trained more than 1,800 farmers. Twelve farmer groups from Luzon and Visayas regularly supply to JFC, and have delivered more than 2,000 metric tons of vegetables to the company. FEP has proven that by combining the elements of market, finance, and agro-enterprise clustering, farmers could meet the volume, quality and timeliness requirements of institutional buyers.
“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.
In celebration of its 10th anniversary, Jollibee Group Foundation (JGF) paid tribute to its partners from both the public and private sectors as well as members of the Jollibee Foods Corporation family on Monday, May 4, 2015 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Ortigas, Pasig City.
Led by its President, Grace Tan Caktiong, JGF recognized the invaluable contribution of partners to its mission of help empowering Filipinos to live a life defined by dignity, purpose and active participation in nation-building. “Tonight is not just about JGF. We are actually honoring ten years of shared vision for our communities and collaboration with our partners,” Ms. Tan Caktiong said.
JGF has worked with more than 500 partners and donors including Non-Government Organizations, Local Government Units, National Government Agencies and other Foundations and business institutions from across the country.
Tony Tan Cationg, Chairman of JGF and Jollibee Foods Corporation, noted the results of Foundation’s collaboration with partners. “The Busog, Lusog, Talino School Feeding Program has helped more than 142,000 undernourished school children; the Farmer Entrepreneurship Program has enabled 1,000 farmers to supply directly to institutional markets like JFC; and the Jollibee Group FoodAID disaster relief and rehabilitation program has benefited over 200,000 affected community members over the past few years,” shared Mr. Tan Caktiong.
The lack of access to appropriate agricultural technology and a steady market has long been a major challenge for smallholder farmers. This often results in farmers’ low income.
Ronaldo Castro, a farmer from San Jose City in Nueva Ecija, is all too familiar with the challenges that confront farmers. “We didn’t have a process when to plant and when to harvest, as long as we had some produce to sell. Farmers here used to just plant crops separately without cooperating with each other,” Castro said in Filipino.
Through the Farmer Entrepreneurship Program (FEP) of Jollibee Group Foundation together with its partners, as well as the support of the local government of San Jose City, the Department of Agriculture and property developer DoubleDragon Properties Corp., farmers like Castro are now working together and earning more.
Initiated in 2008, FEP aims to help increase the income of smallholder farmers by linking them to institutional markets such as Jollibee Foods Corporation (JFC) and supermarkets. Since its launch, the program has assisted more than 900 farmers from across the country. Castro now serves as Chairman of the Onion and Vegetable Producers Cooperative (OVEPCO), one of the farmers’ groups that has been regularly supplying to JFC.
An important initiative under the program was the Farmer Leaders’ Training Series where fifty (50) farmers from different farmer groups underwent training on agro-enterprise clustering and leadership values to strengthen their skills in organizational management.
“We were trained in agro-enterprise management and how to make a proper supply plan to ensure that we could meet our delivery targets,” OVEPCO’s Vice Chair Raquel Ariem said.“Farmers learned how to do business the right way,” Castro added.
DoubleDragon Properties Corp. co-founder Mr. Edgar “Injap” Sia II said initiatives such as the FEP are important because it fosters economic activities in the countryside, which help other businesses in these areas to also thrive. DoubleDragon annually donates to Jollibee Group Foundation, where part of the donation is used to undertake initiatives under the FEP. “As someone who has experienced growing a business in the province, I know how valuable these kinds of training are to equip farmers with the right attitude and know-how to defy the odds that they face. I hope these farmers’ experiences will inspire other small holder farmers to become entrepreneurs and to pursue their dreams as well,” Sia said.
The Farmer Leaders’ Training together with other FEP learning interventions has tremendous impact on farming communities. Data shows that farmers could earn up to as much as five times more when they sell to institutional markets compared to local markets.
“We are very thankful that we were included in this program. We now learned how to plant crops that are of high quality standards, which we can sell to institutional markets. Our crops are of much better quality now, Castro happily said.
Last 28 April 2014, representatives from the Jollibee Food Corporation (JFC), institutional partners and guest of honor Senator Bam Aquino, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Trade, Commerce and Entrepreneurship visited farms in San Jose City, Nueva Ecija to express their commitment to help uplift the lives of farmers.
Through the help of the Farmer Entrepreneurship Program (FEP), a partnership project of the Jollibee Group Foundation (JGF), Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and National Livelihood Development Corporation (NLDC), opportunities are opened up to small-scale farmer groups for them to supply their produce like chili peppers and onions directly to institutional buyers, such as fast food restaurants, supermarkets and food processors.
JFC sources white onions from KALASAG for the burger patties of Jollibee. Chowking, a subsidiary of JFC serving Chinese fast food, has sourced chili peppers from the KALASAG farmers of San Jose since 2011 for use in their chili oil. Splash Foods Corporation (SFC), which manufactures food products like sauces, preserves, ready-to-eat canned meals and other condiments also sources onions, chilli pepper, garlic and gabi leaves from FEP farmers.
KALASAG is ably assisted by Mayor Marivic Belena and the local government unit (LGU) of San Jose City, who are active co-implementers of FEP in their site.
Sen. Aquino stressed the importance of having inclusive supply chains to help increase the income of smallholder farmers and to help fight poverty in the Philippines. He underscored the need to replicate the San Jose FEP model in other parts of the country.
“Agriculture is one of the backbone industries of the country. It is really the dream for the program to help small-scale farmers not only to improve their livelihood but to participate in nation-building,” said JGF President M’ Grace Tan Caktiong. FEP has partnered with more than 40 local institutions to develop over 900 farmers from 15 provinces nationwide.