In the olden days, it was enough for farmers to plant crops and by harvest time, go to the village market to sell whatever they produce. But with the opening of a borderless economy under the ASEAN integration which is set to take effect this year, farmers cannot afford anymore to just sit and wait for a trader to buy their product. Pitted against other Asian farmers, majority of the Filipino farmers are at the disadvantage because of inefficient production, losses due to the typhoons, poor infrastructure and declining government support.
But as competition becomes intense with cheaper agricultural products coming in from Indonesia or other neighboring Asian country, the farmers are under increasing pressure to become more competitive or else be left out in the cold. Being competitive means being able to produce more cheaply at the right time while ensuring that the quality is better. That means, to cut the cost and maximize profit, they have to consolidate their produce and cut through the intermediaries and engage the big buyers themselves.But negotiating with the big buyers requires them also to have the necessary volume and quality.
In response to these challenges, non-profit organizations in the Philippines such as the Xavier Science Foundation, are helping women and men farmers organize themselves into production clusters and engage in group marketing by linking with buyers, preferrably institutional buyers. This is what is happening among cassava farmers under a cooperative run mostly by women farmers in a remote community in Misamis Oriental, Philippines.
Civil Societies such Xavier Science Foundation, in partnership with the government, provide business development services that aims to build the capacity of the farmers’ cooperative to negotiate their way through the market while improving how their crops are grown. Using the Value-Chain approach, a team of business development consultants are teaching farmers to understand how the local cassava industry works, to find ways how to become more efficient and to work around the dynamic market. Suddenly, the market they come to know is turning to be bigger than they realize. They now know that it is important to check first who their buyers are and what their demands are , before they decide what kind of cassava variety to plant.
“When we started the business of buying the cassava products of our members, we didn’t have a concrete plan,” Erlinda Cagmat, the leader of the cooperative recalled . “ But now, we realize that we need to put all our plans into a business plan. With a business plan, we don’t have to commit as many mistakes as we did. “
Emma Dagondon, the manager, is upbeat . “We can deliver what our buyer requires if only we have more capital and better post-harvest facilities”, she said."As farmers we have to be organized in our production and marketing order to have better income.”
As leaders of the cooperative, these women are stepping up to their new role as business managers.They are mastering the negotiating skills needed to deal with big traders. They are learning more about the different actors of the market chain.They are looking for ways to cut their marketing cost so that it will not eat up their profits. They know that cassava processed into granules gives them more income that just selling fresh tubers.
On the other hand, they are also struggling to operate their production and marketing of cassava granules because of inadequate capital and lack of access to drying facilities. They are still hesitant to obtain a production loan because of the high risk involve when giving out loans to their farmer-members.As leaders, they know their members need to be more responsible in using loans and in paying back.
They are on the lookout for resources that they can tap to be able to put up a dryer for their cassava chips. They are also looking for support in terms of accessing better credit services for their members. As the Filipino farmers negotiate their way through this new terrain, it is increasingly urgent that they be provided with adequate support by the government and private sector so that they become more competitive with their Asian counterpart and seize the opportunities that this new terrain brings to bring them closer to the goal of economic empowerement.