“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.
Sagip Saka, an advocacy program of the Office of Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, the Department of Agriculture (DA), and the Congressional Oversight Committee for Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization (COCAFM) recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to provide P11.8 million worth of assistance to agricultural communities in eight provinces around the Philippines. Signatories to the MOU were Jollibee Foundation, Catholic Relief Services (CRS), National Livelihood Development Corporation (NLDC) together with local government units and micro-finance institutions (MFIs) undertaking the Farmer Entrepreneurship Program. The program aims to improve small farmers’ income by linking them to the supply chain of institutional markets.
The funds, to be released directly to the local government units of each site, will be used to provide post-harvest facilities such as rain shelters, transportation vehicles, and tractors; agricultural equipment such as water pumps for irrigation; inputs; and other forms of assistance that are aimed to increase the productivity and income of onion, red pepper, tomato, and lettuce farmers. Recipient communities are existing beneficiaries of Farmer Entrepreneurship Program of Jollibee Foundation, CRS and NLDC from Vigan, Caoayan, and Sinait in Ilocos Sur; Alaminos, Alcala, Bani, and Aguilar in Pangasinan; Tarlac City, Tarlac; Alabat, Quezon Province; San Jose City, Nueva Ecija; Santa Josefa, Agusan del Sur; Mati, Davao Oriental; and Impasug-ong, Bukidnon.
Over 400 farmers and their families in 13 sites in the eight provinces will benefit from this program on the first year of implementation.
According to Pangilinan, “Sagip Saka [is] our advocacy that aims to achieve sustainable modern agricultureand food security by transforming agricultural communities to reach their full potential, improving farmers’ and fishers’ quality of life, and bridging gaps through public-private partnerships. Based on our experience, Sagip Saka has been a good example of the power of public-private partnerships for rural development, because it brings back the dignity and the primacy of the Filipino farmer. It also strives to uplift the quality of life of our farmers and fisher folk.”
The lawmaker, who chairs the Senate Committees on Agriculture and Food, and Social Justice and Rural Development, also explained the seven “cornerstones” or “pillars” of Sagip Saka. These are: (1) providing access to investments and credit; (2) opening access to market; (3) rolling out infrastructure; (4) strengthening research and development; (5) organizing farmer communities and cooperatives; (6) ensuring the quality and consistency of supply; and (7) mitigating the risks brought about by climate change.
“Local agriculture has been asleep for three decades–which is why we are lagging behind our neighbours such as Taiwan, Malaysia, South Korea, and Thailand… While these countries have been busy modernizing their agricultural sector and ensuring productivity in the countryside, our leaders, for the most part, have made empty promises and have failed to deliver on their commitments.”
“Sa kahuli-hulihan, kulelat pa rin ang Pilipinas pagdating sa agrikultura. Hindi na puwede ang ganito,” Pangilinan said in Filipino.
The senator likewise pointed out that Sagip Saka was inspired by the success of the Farmer Entrepreneurship program that Jollibee Foundation, CRS, NLDC and the local government unit of San Jose City has been implementing. Through this program, the Kalasag Farmers Producers Cooperative in Nueva Ecija has been delivering bulb onions directly to Jollibee Foods Corporation since 2008. “We, the Jollibee Foundation and CRS and NLDC have committed and worked very hard for the past three years to help our small farmers and from what we saw in the Kalasag Farmers’ success with the support of Mayor Belena and the initiatives of the farmers themselves, and other institutions such as Waltermart, we are very encouraged and inspired to sustain that commitment,” said Mrs. Grace Tan Caktiong, Jollibee Foundation President.
“The success of the intervention on the Kalasag Farmer’s cooperative gave us a good template for this type of public-private partnership. In the end, both the farmers’ group and Jollibee benefited from this because Jollibee was able to get a steady and reliable source of onions, while the farmers were able to substantially increase their incomes by going direct to the market, ” continued Pangilinan.
“We hope to replicate the success of the Jollibee-Kalasag partnership across all Sagip Saka communities and make an impact in the lives of our farmers. This is the only way to ensure the sustainability of our agricultural programs and likewise ensure food security. We thank Jollibee and the rest of our private sector partners for leading the way and showing that it can be done,” Pangilinan concluded.