by: Reynelle A. Cariño
Seeing each day as another chance for great opportunities, Benedicta always wakes up early in the morning, prepares her family’s breakfast, visits her ‘kalamyas’ stored in the kitchen with ‘saba’ bananas, waters her organic vegetables, and puts fertilizer on her organic garden from ‘sili’ harvested from her backyard. Such is her routine in the past two years since deciding to become a self-employed organic farmer.
Benedicta is one of the women benefiting from local services of the local government specially designed for women engaged in agriculture and business.
In celebration of women’s month, the Los Baños Gender and Development (GAD) office conducted a workshop entitled “Women in Agriculture: Boosting Participation through Post-Harvest Activities” on March 11 in the new municipal building. The activity was made possible in partnership with the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic, and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD) and the Postharvest Horticulture and Research Center (PHTRC). It focused on empowering female farmers to unleash their entrepreneurial spirit especially about marketing aspect.
Agribusiness on board
According to Reymuel Salongkong, a GAD staffer in charge of the event, the post harvest workshop is part of the 15-month primary project with PCAARRD which is “Enhancing Gender-Sensitive Organic Vegetable Production”, a livelihood of organic farming practices for low income communities of Los Baños. The project has started way back last March 2014 and about to end this June 2015.
According to Salongkong, “…people behind it are already planning of the expansion of the said project since it is a [continuous and sustainable agriculture activity] which promotes the advocacy in empowering local female farmers for them to have source of livelihood income that can support their family’s needs.”
This was being proved by 42-year old Benedicta who has been an organic farmer, a vendor of her own vegetables and fruits, and a participant of several seminars and workshops about marketing for almost two years.
“Dahil sa workshop na ito, nalaman ko ‘yung paggamit ng sili para maging fertilizer ng aking mga gulay kaysa sa kemikal na ginagamit namin noon at ‘yung packaging na tinatawag sa marketing para maging presentable pa rin ‘yung mga organic na gulay ko kahit binabiyahe sila,” she said.
Through the workshop, Benedicta learned several ways on how to preserve her organic vegetables and fruits through proper handling and storing; to package them properly which makes her products presentable that gives an additional edge aside from the fact that her products are organic; and to improve her “business talk.”
Furthermore, since the said workshop is part of a “developmental agricultural project” as described by Salongkong with the planned expansion, the number of new farmer-beneficiaries will increase until June. The first set of female farmers would continue to be trained. Another, the search of potential customers and partners who can help the local farmers to increase their target audience—the Los Baños constituents—has been considered.
The Demand is Right
Dr. Perlita Nuevo, one of the guest speakers from PHTRC, said that “farmers who engage in entrepreneurship should let the market demand for what they should produce” because new farmers are joining the bandwagon of dealing more with what is “popular” than what is “needed” in the market. This situation leads to sudden increase on the quantity of commodities that is greater than what is needed in the market, thereby leading to income losses.
Moreover, if surplus will occur due to the excessive production of a certain commodity, shortage to other supply of other products may possibly happen. So as a response, Nuevo taught farmers and made them realized that there are [lots] of potential and in demand organic vegetables and fruits that farmers can use rather than going with what is “popular” in the market which will economically improve their lives and the production process which will dictate the quality of the state’s products.
In addition, another guest speaker from PHTRC who earned PhD with specializations in Agricultural Marketing, Development Communication, and Postharvest Extension, Dr. Matilde Maunahan, showed her marketing model which consists of parts—production, post production and marketing—arranged consecutively. This marketing model is a two-way process because of the objective of the workshop to educate farmers that their role do not only stop in the production phase; thus, they should know that they are still significant in the marketing phase to thoroughly maintain the quality of the product.
Aside from teaching the farmers ways and techniques that they can use in planting organic vegetables and fruits, Maunahan also imparted information and knowledge that local female farmers can apply in selling their products.
According to Nuevo, given that these farmers sell organic—which is indeed an edge in business industry due to the bad effects of chemically fertilized commodities—asthetic appearance of the product is still the basis to attract customers. Maunahan said that “…even though it is organic, how can consumer buy an eggplant which has holes and patches due to improper storage and transportation?” The workshop imparted knowledge to the farmers on how to be careful in producing, preserving, storing, and transporting organic vegetables and fruits in a way that its quality would not be suffered and they are still fresh coming from farm going to every consumer’s table.
In addition, Nuevo said that local farmers should learn how to acquire the assurance of food safety and quality that they can give to their consumers because people want to eat vegetables for the benefits they can get from these foods and not the disease. Also, farmers should always consider that consumers would always “buy through their eyes” or being meticulous on the appearance of the vegetables and fruits giving the farmers the reason to be a lot more careful in production, post production and market processes.
Farmers to Firms
“Napapag-aral ko nga ang lima kong anak dahil dito, e,” Benedicta stated. This project helps her and her husband who is also a farmer in providing the needs of her five children. She can afford to put her children in school due to her hardwork in organic market. In fact, according to Benedicta, having a weekly income of not less than PhP 1, 500 per week is not bad for local organic farmer who chose to be self-employed.
The training is free and open to any local farmers here in Los Baños. The municipality’s Gender and Development office is located on the 2nd floor for inquiries.