MALAHUTAYONG KAHIUSAHAN SA MGA KABABAYEN-AN SA BUKI DNON
Sometimes, the best man for the job is a woman.
In the case of the MalahutayongKahiusahansamgaKababayen-an saBukidnon (Makakabus), which literally means “for the Sometimes, the best man for the job is a woman. In the case of the MalahutayongKahiusahansamgaKababayen-an saBukidnon (Makakabus), which literally means “for the poor” in Cebuano, it is the women farmers who dared to practice sustainable agriculture at a time when other farmers were still into saturating their rice fields with chemical fertilizers and insecticides.
The women were originally members of the BukidnonMasipag Farmers Multi-Purpose Cooperative (BMF-MPC). The co-op was based in Barangay Sinayawan, Valencia, Bukidnon, one of the 10 sites of the concluded Promoting Participation in Sustainable Enterprises (PPSE) program of the Philippine Development Assistant Programme. But because they had felt they weren’t being given the freedom and the funds to implement projects they were committed to doing, they decided to put up their own group in 1998. The Bukidnon Center for Sustainable Agriculture turned over farm equipment in 2001 and the women started various enterprises – farm equipment rental, food catering service and rice trading. At first, they bought and sold rice even if the suppliers were using conventional, inorganic methods. Membership exploded to more than a hundred but when MAKAKABUS enforced a “purely organic” policy, only eight women held on. poor” in Cebuano, it is the women farmers who dared to practice sustainable agriculture at a time when other farmers were still into saturating their rice fields with chemical fertilizers and insecticides. The women were originally members of the BukidnonMasipag Farmers Multi-Purpose Cooperative (BMF-MPC). The co-op was based in Barangay Sinayawan, Valencia, Bukidnon, one of the 10 sites of the concluded Promoting Participation in Sustainable Enterprises (PPSE) program of the Philippine Development Assistant Programme.
But because they had felt they weren’t being given the freedom and the funds to implement projects they were committed to doing, they decided to put up their own group in 1998. The Bukidnon Center for Sustainable Agriculture turned over farm equipment in 2001 and the women started various enterprises – farm equipment rental, food catering service and rice trading. At first, they bought and sold rice even if the suppliers were using conventional, inorganic methods. Membership exploded to more than a hundred but when MAKAKABUS enforced a “purely organic” policy, only eight women held on.
The move was necessary as one of MAKAKABUS’ objectives was to “implement sustainable / organic agriculture to alleviate poverty in Bukidnon province.” And since Valencia was being positioned as the organic rice capital of the Philippines, MAKAKABUS felt that it was in the best position to take advantage of increasing awareness of organic products. MAKAKABUS quickly realized, however, that it was up against human behavior, poverty and centuries of programming using unsustainable agriculture based on destructive practices inherited from the green revolution.
The move was necessary as one of MAKAKABUS’ objectives was to “implement sustainable /organic agriculture to alleviate poverty in Bukidnon province.” And since Valencia was being positioned as the organic rice capital of the Philippines, MAKAKABUS felt that it was in the best position to take advantage of increasing awareness of organic products. MAKAKABUS quickly realized, however, that it was up against human behavior, poverty and centuries of programming using unsustainable agriculture based on destructive practices inherited from the green revolution.
The women farmers, however, were not about to falter in their objective so they persevered. A production loan of Php 150,000 was acquired from PDAP and other NGOs, which was used to purchase palay.
One officer says, “There were members who quit because they could not commit to pure organic farming. They wanted three cropping cycles a year.”
While organic farming needs lesser farm inputs and is therefore, relatively less costly, small farmers still needed a fiancing scheme to support their decision to shift and continue sustaining their families.
The first year is particularly crucial because there is a slack in the harvest – two croppings instead of three are encouraged – to allow for a fallow period.
Daphne Frayco, MAKAKABUS’ Local Inspector, notes the early difficulties, “When we weren’t into organic farming yet, we could harvest up to 100 sacks but the costs were also expensive. When we went organic, we could only net up to 50 sacks.”
MAKAKABUS went through other painful growing pains, mainly problems with fiancing and also convincing the farmers to stay on the organic track. To encourage them to keep farming the organic way, MAKAKABUS presented itself as a market for the organic rice and become the right kind of middleman.
MAKAKABUS provided production loans to member-borrowers and bought their organic rice harvest at PhP 9 per kilo fild weight – 12.5 percent higher than the prevailing market price. The rice was processed using the group’s own post-harvest facilities because by then, MAKAKABUS had earned enough from farm equipment rental to buy more equipment.
Phasing into its new program, Promoting Rural Industries and Market Enhancement (PRIME), PDAP assisted MAKAKABUS in establishing an Internal Quality Control System (IQCS) to produce superior organic products.
Under PRIME, MAKAKABUS had developed another identity – as Local Market Consolidator (LMC) serving as intermediary between the market and farmers. This way, problems in the regularity of supply, high transaction cost, little bargaining power and transparency are addressed.
PDAP also guaranteed MAKAKABUS’ loans from MASS – SPECC of Php1 Million for trading capital and Php 4.5 Million for mortgaged land’s redemption project.
The farmers also knew that the profi margin is plowed directly to the organization. Every sack of palay merits 50 centavos for MAKAKABUS. So even if there are still ordinary rice traders that they can sell their produce to, farmers preferred MAKAKABUS. This trust made the organization what it is now.
In 2006, MAKAKABUS acquired an organic certifiate from the Organic Certifiation Center of the Philippines (OCCP) after it installed its IQCS. Then in the following year, it was able to buy commercial lot for its warehouse, solar dryer and rice mill exclusive for organic products MAKAKABUS also later found itself getting more land as because of poverty, many nonmembers were forced to mortgage their land to MAKAKABUS. Before acceptance, these farmers were screened and agreements were reached that the properties are to be used for organic production. An 80 to 20 percent sharing scheme was also forged providing the original owners the option to work their land while the organization provides training, inputs and helps manage the properties.
Some members who have mortgaged their lands to private individuals are assisted in the redemption and in the shifting to organic farming. The original owners gradually pay the mortgage until they are able to redeem the land from MAKAKABUS, preventing them from losing their properties.
The Land Acquisition and Management project has turned into the organization’s primary source of income with advocacy to non-organic believers as the value added in the scheme. In 2006, of the total 86 hectares devoted to organic farming, 20 hectares are mortgaged property. MAKAKABUS wants to bring the area of mortgaged property up to at least 25 hectares to fulfil its twin objectives of rescuing farmers from the tight grip of poverty and spreading the benefis of organic farming.
And MAKAKABUS is not about to stop growing, helping prove once again that women can lead, and lead well, indeed.
Located just 14 kilometers of the coast of Sabah, Malaysia, in the Philippines’ southernmost province of Tawitawi, is the municipality of Sitangkai, the country’s seaweed capital and the ‘Cottonii Seaweed Capital of the World’.
One of the 10 municipalities of Tawitawi, Sitangkai’s land mass consists of 12,750 hectares, a province of 307 islands and islets.
Sitangkai’s biggest island, Sibutu is host to a historical site of religious significance being the location of the burial site of Sheikh Makhdum, the Arab missionary who introduced Islam andbuilt the first mosque in the Philippines in the 9th century.
Its town proper, also called Sitangkai, is a bustling commercial center where many products from Malaysia and Indonesia are displayed and sold alongside the Philippines. Sitting on a strand that is barely one square kilometer in area, Sitangkai town proper is often called the “Venice of the Philippines” owing to its residential area and houses built on stilts and corrals with intricate canals and waterways reminiscent of Venice, Italy.
For centuries, the people of Sitangkai made a living from the rich marine ecosystem that surrounds the area. Situated in the Sulu-Sulawesi Seas, which account for 30% of the world’s coral reefs, fihing and harvesting of other marine products such as sea cucumber, sea urchin and sea mantis provide its people a major and stable source of income.
Eighty percent of its population, or about 20,000 individuals, rely on seaweeds for their living. Upon the advent of the seaweed industry in the area that began in the early 1950’s, many people from Sitangkai shifted to seaweed farming as their primary means of livelihood and income.
Seaweed cultivation in Sitangkai, Tawitawi is dominated by the ‘cottonii’ type because of the high demand in the market for kappa carrageenan which has diversifid applications.
The seaweed farmers of Sitangkai live in small villages-on-stilts called pondohans, which are constructed in shallow coral reef areas in the middle of the sea. Made of temporary and substandard construction materials like bamboo and nipa shingles, these pondohans are erected within the proximity of their seaweed farms to improve accessibility of the farmers to their farm sites and at the same time double as shelter and drying areas for harvested seaweeds.
Originally intended as half-way houses or places for stop-over, the pondohans are maintained by the seaweed farmers for as long as the seaweed thrives well in the area. It is not surprising therefore, to see pondohans that have been in existence for 30 or even 40 years.
On the average, a seaweed farmer maintains a farm size of one-fourth hectare that earns him or heran income of Php 21,800.00 annually. Fishing and harvesting of marine products serve as secondary or supplementary source of income for the family.
Of the over 100 existing pondohons which are home to over 10,000 seaweed farmers, Three have greatly benefitted from PDAP’s PRIME Program – Sipangkot, Sikulan, and Tinambak. These three pondohans were formalized into associations duly-recognized by the Department of Labor and Employment, been given capacity-building trainings, and provided with stilt driers. Two of the three sites now have seaweed nurseries.
These pondohans have also benefied from PDAP initiatives to improve the plight of Sitangkai’s seaweed farmers such as access to export markets and constant price monitoring.
“PDAP’s intervention in the seaweeds industry is different from other PRIME commodities – muscovado sugar and organic rice – since it was PDAP-PRIME who initiated the formation of the seaweed farmers associations and the strengthening of the local seaweed industry,” Evangeline Faburada, PDAP project staff said.
Based on the baseline survey conducted by PDAP in 2006, the three sites have similar circumstances and challenges, which is somewhat reflective of all the pondohans in Sitangkai.
Most seaweed farmers earned less than Php 50,000.00 a year, with very few earning Php 100,000.00 and above. Household expenses were within Php 20,000.00 per year. Most farmers in the three sites cultivate seaweeds in just one parcel. To make both ends meet, most of the seaweed farmers raise poultry, are into fihing and aquaculture, and even participate in trading enterprises.
The high cost of production inputs, pests and diseases, limited access to better paying markets and lack of access to credit are the problems besetting the small seaweed farmers of Sitangkai.
“Seaweeds production involves many activities – clearing and posting, preparation of seedlings and planting materials, building a farm house, maintenance of planted seaweeds and harvesting and drying – which entail many costs. Many materials are also needed for maintenance and operation of the farm like mangrove posts, bamboo, pointed iron materials, bull hammers and banca,” MursidiArola, Sikulan Seaweed Farmers Association president, shares.
In 2006, the cost of producing seaweeds for one parcel ran to over Php 26,000.00, most of it was for the purchase of seedlings and planting materials, rental of boats and farm machinery, purchase of line, straws and flaters, and processing and drying fees.
Pest infestation, like the presence of seaweed-eating animals such as sea urchins, starfish and other predators were also major problems of seaweed farmers. Natural calamities and unfavorable weather conditions like strong currents or turbulent winds were also identified.
The farmers also lamented the high cost of hiring farm laborers. Normally, 2 to 5 men are needed for maintenance of a one-hectare seaweeds farm to clean the area and remove any dirt that clings to the seaweeds.
“In the past, farm labor was free because seaweed farming was a collective effort of the entire community. Now, people want to be paid either in cash or in kind for their efforts, maybe because of hard times or simply because people have become opportunistic,” Ibno J. Juaini, Sipangkot Seaweed Farmers Association president, laments.
Farmers also complained about the high cost of marketing, which is dictated by numerous factors such as convenience and distance from the farm to the buyer or trading stations, absence of infrastructure facilities such as farm-to-market roads and bridges, as well as the purchasing terms and other conditions set by the buyer.
“On the average, we spend almost Php 1,500.00 for marketing costs, which is basically the cost of transporting our produce to the traders or buying stations,” explains Almujir A. Abduraup, Tinambak Seaweed Farmers Association president.
Being the preferred buyers of most seaweed farmers for their produce, traders practically dictated the price of raw seaweed. It comes as no surprise therefore, that farmers often fell prey to unscrupulous traders.
While seaweed farmers are the bulwark of Sitangkai’s economy, it is sad to note that their living conditions remain poor. They still lack even the most basic needs like potable water, electricity, technology and telecommunications, even education.
Generally, a large portion of their household income is generally spent on food and the rest goes to other basic needs such as education, allowance, medical needs and clothing.
The entry of PDAP was via the crafting of the ‘SitangkaiSeaweeeds Master Plan’, with the Local Government Unit (LGU), other donors and concerned local stakeholders. Ocular visits, surveys and initial meetings with the core groups of identifid people’s organizations followed.
Formal organizing of communities, installation of stilt driers and nurseries, and the creation of the Sitangkai LMC (local market consolidator) Carageenan Corporation, were undertaken. The LGU was also assisted in crafting the seaweed master plan. Market access for the small seaweed farmers was facilitated initially through the Sitangkai Seaweeds Export Company (SITEXPORTS), which exports raw dried seaweeds to Cargill in France. The corporation is now in negotiations with the Chinese market and is ready to commence trading once the contract is secured.
Dramatically, the intervention of PDAP was able to at least improve the farm yield of farmers by 15percent. However, income-wise, the return is not signifiant due to unstable market demand and price fluctuations.
Thus, PDAP-PRIME employed the diversification approach to supplement the primary income source of farmers. The farmers were taught to culture abalone and glacilaria, a joint project between PDAP and the USAID-funded Grant for Equity in Mindanao (GEM) program.
The turning point for PDAP’s intervention was the provision of stilt driers and nurseries, which helped to increase volume and improve the quality of produce. The knowledge imparted to the farmers via a host of training programs improved farming technology, mitigated the effect of diseases and pests, and increased yield.
“Although these outcomes are part of our expectations when we began our interventions in Sitangkai, with the operationalization of SLMCC the results will be greatly optimized,” Jerry Pacturan, PDAP Executive Director, says.
For now, the three pondohans, like most of Sitangkai’s seaweed farming community, can hope of at least a fair chance of escape from the centuries-old cycle of poverty that have mired them. As Jolly Ahaja, CEO of SITEXPORT, PDAP-PRIME’s trading partner in Sitangkai, puts it,
“The fact that we have made headway in breaking the monopoly of trading in Sitangkai, and are slowly but surely operationalizing the Sitangkai LMC Corporation, is a good start.”
SULTAN KUDARAT MUSCOVADO FARMERS AND MILLERS CORP.
As the global economy emerges from its worst downturn since the Great Depression in the United States of the 1930s, expectations are high that commodity prices would spike starting 2010 as buyers around the world scramble for precious supply.
Sugar will not be an exemption. This may thus be an opportunity for local producers of muscovado to earn more from increased prices, given the rising demand for this raw, healthy sugar that is finding a growing and loyal market in developed countries, particularly in Europe.
And when it comes to muscovado, the Sultan Kudarat Muscovado Farmers and Millers Corp. (SKMFMC) is an expert.
Legally registered as a corporation in March 2006, SKMFMC is a social enterprise made up of two farmers’ cooperatives, eight individual millers and several farmers. It is based in President Quirino, a 3rd class and considered the most depressed municipality in the province of Sultan Kudarat.
Around 890 hectares are planted to sugarcane making President Quirino the largest producer of muscovado (dark brown unrefied sugar) in the country in terms of land area coverage. National muscovado production, aside from its being seasonal, has been declining due mainly to crude processing technology, improper production technology, lack of good sugarcane varieties and land conversion.
Under PRIME, PDAP identifid the need to fist shift small farmers from producing conventional sugar to muscuvado. The second shift was from inorganic farming to sustainable agriculture and addressing the problem of production shortage.
“PDAP had a hard time organizing us. The people said, ‘you just cause a disturbance’.” Farmers’ attitudes differ. We had to do it slowly,” relates SKMFMC chair Cornelio Castaneda, himself a small muscovado miller.
SKMFMC and PDAP realized that despite the farmers’ appreciation of the situation and expressed interest in organic farming – due to lack of market information and the behavioral hesitance to change what they have been used to – there had to be an investment on capacity building, and more so, on institution building.
With the facilitation of PDAP, the Philippine Business for Social Progress’ Business Advisory Program (PBSP-BAP), trained the farmers on organizational anagement, and now enjoy clearer direction and objectives. PDAP provided technical assistance for the use of financial software for SKMFMC to generate timely reports as an aid to decision-making.
While these took time, farmers started seeing incremental changes, and though these were small, they were necessary. “They saw that the villages producing organic muscovado had several variety stores, and these are open all-year round compared to the stores in nearby villages which close after harvest,” Castaneda says.
Working with the Asia-Japan Partnership Network for Poverty Reduction (AJPN), PDAP concentrated on catalyzing the third shift – consolidating the small farmers and millers into a corporate entity. This last hurdle was the most diffilt. It is one thing to organize farmers and shift them to organic farming, it was yet another to turn them into entrepreneurs.
After drafting their business plan with technical assistance from PDAP, SKMFMC received a working capital loan worth P1.6 million from PDAP’s partner fiancing institution, FPSDC – the payment of which it has religiously worked for.
PDAP also linked the group with Upland Marketing Foundation, Inc. (UMFI), an NGO based in Metro Manila providing marketing support services for communities for their processed food products.
PDAP assisted in its compliance with the Good Manufacturing Practices as well as the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point as food safety requirements of the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) and the Department of Health (DOH). PDAP also helped in the product’s packaging.
Other agencies also provided invaluable assistance to SKMFMC. The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) helped in the branding. The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) is also helping SKMFMC, which until now still manually packages its products, set-up its packaging machine.
SKMFMC also worked on the documentation, inspection and evaluation of its ICQS (Internal Quality Control System) to assess the group’s readiness for local and international organic certification.
Now there are only two kinds of musvocado – what is called the “PDAP quality” and “reject quality.”
“We have set our own standards that require our muscovado to be sediment-free. It is already export quality. The proper term here is premium muscovado,” says Castaneda.
And with SKMFMC’s Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with four Rural Enterprising Communities (RECS), the volume of musvocado has steadily increased. The group’s positioning the product as “premium” and the parallel increase in quality allowed SKMFMC to command a good price for the farmers, and prevent fluctuation.
“Before PDAP, farmgate price ranged from P12.00 to P14.00 per kilo,” recalls Castaneda, “now, it doesn’t get any lower than P40.00 to P45.00 per kilo.”
The demand that has always been there escalated.
Between that and UMFI’s requirement that sometimes reaches up to 60 tons, the industry in Sultan Kudarat had to respond to a market vacuum and pole vaulting – market trends that farmers have not had any experience dealing with.
SKMFMC admits to a struggle that required it to be creative in its engagement. Since the group has successfully increased the price of musvocado, other farmers and millers who are nonmembers have also ridden the wave.
Castaneda explains the phenomenon, “They cannot lower their prices from our P40.00 to P45.00 buying price. There is a market vacuum because of the huge demand so some farmers sell outside for P32.00. All we can do is keep improving our quality so they will see the difference.”
The market vacuum also created complacency among the farmers, even some members of SKMFMC, and the level of quality went down. “They say, we can sell this anyway, even the dirty muscovado is bought. So why should we risk it? Why should we make a loan? SKMFMC, they said, is too strict.”
But Castaneda is steadfast, “We started it right, we will end it right. Even if we don’t want to offend anybody, we need to do this for the good of the industry.”
SKMFMC will have to make sure that those standards stay, especially as the Philippines faces the very real possibility of imported muscovado coming into the country starting next year with the lowering of global tariff.
The Philippines’ muscovado, fortunately, can still compete with imports and can even be priced competitively to penetrate more markets abroad. And when it does, it is almost sure that SKMFMC will be in the picture.