November 30, 2021
Vice President Leni Robredo has successfully transformed Filipino farmers in Bicol into “agri-entrepreneurs” through the “Umasenso sa Kabuhayan” that now sells directly to commercial establishments including Bigg’s Diner.
During the forum “Halalan 2022 Para sa Agrikultura” organized by the Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food Inc. (PCAFI), Robredo said there are already nine municipalities in Bicol with farming communities that are directly selling to hotels, restaurants, groceries, and supermarkets.
“Farmers’ transition from subsistence farming (into entrepreneurship) is gradual. But if we can show them the benefits, it is possible,” said Robredo.
PCAFI held the forum to orient presidential aspirants on the need of Filipino farmers and the fact that agriculture has been neglected in many years, according to PCAFI President Danilo V. Fausto.
Among the needs are an increased budget of at least 10% of GDP which is but “fair” as agriculture contributes 10% to GDP and even up to 35% when agriculture processing industries are included.
Farmers need to be aided to become businessmen as “agriculture should not be treated as a charity work but as a business,” Fausto said.
Recommendations on agriculture were also presented during the forum by Federation of Free Farmers Chairman Leonardo Montemayor, Alyansa Agrikultura Convenor Ernie Ordonez, and Rice Watch Executive Director Hazel Tanchuling.
This program with Bicol farmers started in 2018 when the Office of the Vice President (OVP) conducted a simultaneous survey. The survey asked commercial establishments on the top 10 agricultural goods they need and the top 10 crops that farmers grow.
Both the commercial establishments and the farmers’ groups cited the top 10 agricultural crops they need or grow.
The businessmen cited these crops as what they need, in order from the most important to the least– calamansi, ginger, chili pepper, lettuce, and cucumber.
“We told the farmers, ‘Grow calamansi, and we will provide you with the financial grants and the seedlings,’” she said.
Initially, the farmers were resistant since they were used to growing cash crops (such as vegetables harvested in three weeks) or a set of crops just to make them a complete set –such as pinakbet vegetables talong, ampalaya, and kalabasa.
These farmers were also basically rice farmers who are among Philippines’ poorest.
But there were enterprising farmers who dared to grow what they were advised, while there were businessmen who were willing to commit to buying these produce upon the prodding of the OVP.
It was also OVP’s partnership with the Metro Naga Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The first big buyer is the Bigg’s Diner in Naga.
These businesses used to buy produce from Baguio or Sariaya, Quezon, instead of from Bicol farmers because of various reasons (more expensive, etc).
“We found it hard at first. But when daring farmers started becoming successful, the other farmers followed,” said Robredo. “Now we already have a lot of contracts. You just need to be focused on the program.”
The success is also attributable to collaboration. The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) assisted the agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARB). The Department of Agriculture (DA) assisted the non-ARBs.
The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) provided shared service facilities for selling the agricultural goods that cannot be bought by institutional buyers. Now there are nine municipalities with shared service facility for this direct trading activity of farmers.
If there is a need for value adding, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) comes in.
“The OVP became a platform where everybody is on board—DA, DOST, DAR, DTI. We are the ones that tell them this is what we need from you. Even the agencies are happy. Now the farmers have a delivery truck. And their earnings are far bigger than what they earned as mere rice farmers,” said the vice president.
The farmers now also have an arrangement with LCC Supermarket, Bicol’s largest supermarket chain, to which the farmers commit to selling their produce.
With the financial grant from government along with their higher income, farmers were able to buy greenhouses for their produce. They were able to put up their drip irrigation facilities for efficient garden watering.
The Umasenso sa Kabuhayan also has another successful agri-entrepreneurship program with the Sumilao Farmers in Bukidnon. It is in partnership with Pilipinas Shell Founation.
“They are our clients in Saligan (a non government organization of lawyers helping the poorest). Sumilao farmers won their case, and they’re very inspiring. Now they have become rich. Our program with Pilipinas Shell taught them to maximize resources. They just grew corn before, now they’re into livestock.”
The OVP introduced these interventions to small farmers as Robredo observed that it is the traders that earn a lot from transactions on agricultural trade.
The farmers, who toil hard on the soil, just registered an income of an additional 6% throughout many years, Robredo said.
“If agencies will not work on silos, programs will not be doubled, and gaps will be filled. I tell farmers to just specialize on products (that are in demand). Let us not insist on growing what is not needed.
Specialization is achieved as one town takes on growing calamansi, another sili. (Melody Mendoza Aguiba)